Recent data acquired under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA 2000) unveils a number of drone sightings over UK nuclear facilities from 2021 to 2023.

The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) has kept specific location details confidential, citing national security implications.

Upon submitting the request, my primary aim was to gather aggregate data on what kind of incidents have been reported from 2021 to so far in 2023. Recognising the importance of security in such matters, the request centred on broad counts and categories, deliberately bypassing detailed or sensitive specifics.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get all the information I needed. I was told, “Due to a technical issue, we cannot currently search our system before August 2021”.

August 2021 – December 2021

Within this window, ten drone-related episodes were recorded. These varied from alarm activations and straightforward sightings to instances of authorised drone flights.

  1. Drone alarm activation, pilot located and given words of advice.
  2. Notification of drone flight.
  3. Report of drone, area search carried out, no trace of drone or pilot.
  4. Report of drone over, area search, no trace, alarm not activated.
  5. Drone alarm activation, area searched no trace. Crime report submitted.
  6. Drone alarm activation, system error.
  7. Officer reports seeing a drone, pilot located and spoken to, it was an accident, no footage of site obtained.
  8. Drone alarm activation, search carried out, nothing found.
  9. Drone reported, area searched, pilot located, authorised flight local Police.
  10. Notification of authorised drone flight.

Entirety of 2022

The year saw nine incidents. This included a mix of potential drone sightings, sanctioned events, and even drones detected at significant altitudes by pilots – one as high as 20,000 feet.

  1. Report of possible drone sighting. Search carried out, nothing found.
  2. Report of drone, search carried out, Officers found out it was a pre- planned event.
  3. Report of drone flying, area search carried out, nothing found.
  4. Drone reported to be flying, Officers carried out area search, no trace.
  5. Report of drone flying. Area search carried out, no trace.
  6. Small drone system activated, showing small drone. Officers attended, no trace.
  7. Report of drone flying, Officers conducted area search, operator located. Spoken to by Officers, who viewed footage from drone, operator voluntarily deleted all footage.
  8. Report from pilot of drone at 20,000 feet. Nothing seen from the ground, area search carried out for operator, no trace.
  9. Report of drone flying, area search carried out by officer, no trace.

January – August 2023

During this period, there were six documented drone events. Most were routine sightings followed by unsuccessful area searches. One, however, was a pre-arranged authorised drone flight.

  1. Drone seen flying. Area search carried out; Pilot not found.
  2. Drone seen flying, area search carried out, no trace.
  3. Drone reported, area search carried out, no trace.
  4. Drone reported, area search carried out, no trace.
  5. Pre planned authorised drone flight.
  6. Drone alarm activated, although alarm activated, drone didn’t enter protected area.

What are UK nuclear sites in this context?

In the context of the UK, nuclear sites generally refer to a range of facilities associated with the nuclear energy industry and defence establishments. These can include:

  • Nuclear Power Stations: These are plants where nuclear energy is converted into electricity. Examples include Hinkley Point, Sizewell, and Dungeness.
  • Nuclear Research Facilities: These are centres where nuclear research takes place, such as the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy or the Dalton Nuclear Institute.
  • Nuclear Reprocessing Plants: Sellafield in Cumbria is a prime example, where nuclear fuel is reprocessed.
  • Nuclear Submarine Bases: The UK operates a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, and these vessels are based at certain naval docks, notably HM Naval Base Clyde (sometimes referred to as Faslane).
  • Defence Establishments: Some sites are associated with the development or storage of nuclear weapons, such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) sites at Aldermaston and Burghfield.
  • Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal Sites: Locations where nuclear waste is stored, treated, or disposed of.
  • Decommissioned Nuclear Sites: Former nuclear facilities which are no longer operational but might still have nuclear materials or be under decommissioning.

These sites are of strategic importance to the UK, both in terms of energy supply and national security. As such, they are heavily regulated, monitored, and protected. Any unauthorised activity, such as drone flights, in the vicinity of these sites is taken very seriously due to the potential security and safety risks involved.

What drives these flights near such sensitive areas? Are they a product of curiosity, deliberate reconnaissance, or mere coincidence?

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_822867)
1 month ago

Media yesterday said Chinese reconnaissance as part of their ongoing espionage efforts.
If so, not easy to prevent until anti drone is placed at every location.
What could drone reconn gain that a satellite can not? These are not time sensitive targets and I can look at all of them right now on Google Earth, admittedly not to the definition or detail a drone flying closer could provide.

Matt (@guest_822878)
1 month ago

Morning Daniele.
Perhaps the drone flights today are simply to prove that one can be flown into a nuclear facility without challenge.
Then at a time of their choosing, a coordinated “strike” across multiple facilities is very feasible. Armed with even just a small explosive device, a bunch of drones could do a considerable amount of damage.
No need to sink ships or destroy our very limited number of tanks. Just a couple of drones targeting our infrastructure from within would be crippling enough.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_822887)
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

Morning Matt.
I would not have thought a small drone could carry the sort of explosive power that would even make a scratch in some nuclear power stations key buildings?
But for many others, yes, maybe.
The SS will no doubt have considered it, some security measures will be classified.

Deep32 (@guest_822912)
1 month ago

Morning mate, notwithstanding what a drone can or cannot do(get the bit ref satellites),it’s a difficult location to police effectively.
The other side of the Loch (Rosneath peninsula) has 3/4 villages along it not including Gareloch head at the top of the Loch.
Just as troublesome for said SS is that Coulport is just the other side of the peninsula directly across from Faslane. It’s all public roads along there too. Not easy to police without upsetting the locals.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_822920)
1 month ago
Reply to  Deep32

Morning mate. Yep, I know it well.

ChrisF (@guest_822917)
1 month ago

I would respectfully suggest a quick look at what Ukrainian armed drones are doing to the Orc defences -machinery and infrastructure-, may give pause for thought.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_822931)
1 month ago

There should be some serious anti-drone tech in place here and surveillance of the air, sub surface and approaches. Hope they can catch and prosecute any perpetrators. The authorities should have some idea who lives in the surrounds and be watchful of any possible threats which I guess they don’t have to tell us anything about…and that’s fine… Lol 😁

Ex-RoyalMarine (@guest_823032)
1 month ago

I saw the fool on YouTube who flew his drone right up to the fence calling himself an “Auditor”. The CNC didn’t arrest him, despite his refusal to give his details. It’s farcical that he wasn’t.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_823048)
1 month ago
Reply to  Ex-RoyalMarine

Theres a guy on YouTube who has a whole range of vids where he goes to “audit” sites, usually plod but sometimes military, MoD, and such.
V amusing. He “rates” the responses he gets from the police.
I wonder if it’s the same chap.

AHG (@guest_823395)
1 month ago

Drone at 20k not spotted from the ground…. ?

Mark Kennett
Mark Kennett (@guest_823458)
1 month ago

I think these incidents are a combination of Curiosity, deliberate reconnaissance and coincidence.

The chap on YouTube sounds like the sort of person who thinks he is doing a great public service not realising how stupid his actions are.