Story Highlights• NEW: Regulatory commission: Military, agencies, construction provide safety
• NEW: Regulatory commission rejected requiring steel I-beams around plants
• Critics say plants not protected from Sept. 11-like air attack; millions at risk
• Sen. Barbara Boxer: Commission did not follow Congress' directive
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nuclear power plants will not be required to put up defenses against terrorist attacks from the air, according to a rule enacted Monday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The commission specifically rejected ordering plants to erect so-called "beamhenge shields" -- steel I-beams and cabling -- that are designed to keep planes from hitting nuclear facilities.
Critics slammed the commission's decision, saying it "jeopardizes the safety of millions."
Dale Klein, chairman of the NRC, said that nuclear plants are already adequately defended against such attacks.
"Nuclear power plants are inherently robust structures that our studies show provide adequate protection in a hypothetical attack by an airplane," he said in a written statement. "The NRC has also taken actions that require nuclear power plant operators to be able to manage large fires or explosions -- no matter what has caused them."
The NRC says the military and other agencies are able to protect the facility from airborne attacks.
"The NRC is actively involved with other federal agencies, including the military, to protect all this nation's infrastructure against such attacks," Klein said
Critics say decision 'sacrifices security'
A coalition of public interest groups and some members of Congress slammed the decision.
Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said the rule "reflects an inadequate, industry-influenced approach that sacrifices security in favor of corporate profits."
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, chairman of the Senate committee with jurisdiction over the NRC, said that her "initial reaction" to the NRC decision "is that the commission did not follow the direction of Congress to ensure that our nuclear power plants are protected from air or land-based terrorist threats."
"I am reviewing the final rule in detail, and will be prepared to hold the NRC's feet to the fire to ensure that our communities are adequately protected," she said.
An NRC spokesman said the commission has not ruled out considering the design of future reactors to protect against terrorist attacks, airborne as well, or industrial accidents. The commission has also researched plans to mitigate damage from such events.
The NRC's security plan, however, is for the most part classified, so details are unavailable.
But critics of the decision say it is far better to prevent an attack than clean up after a nuclear disaster.
Public interest groups say the decision "jeopardizes the safety of millions" and "reaffirms the woefully inadequate security measures already in place at the nation's reactors."
The NRC had been petitioned by a group called the Committee to Bridge the Gap to protect against attacks that would be equal to September 11 in numbers of terrorists; their capacity, ruthlessness, dedication, skills, planning abilities and willingness to die.
The NRC said that the rule approved Monday contains provisions relating to multiple coordinated groups of attackers, suicide attacks and cyber threats.
Nuclear plants like this one, located in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, are said to be strong enough to withstand airplane attacks.