A recent disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) has brought to light a worrying series of drone sightings at British nuclear facilities.

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”. Over the course of two years, from 2021 to 2023, the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) logged a total of 25 incidents involving drones near these highly sensitive sites.

The data, constrained by technical issues preventing access to records before August 2021, includes a range of episodes from alarm activations and direct sightings to authorised drone flights.

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.

The MDP, citing national security, defence, and law enforcement reasons, has opted to withhold specific details regarding the locations and intricate descriptions of these sightings.

This series of incidents gains additional context from a report I found that was presented by the MDP to a local council near HM Naval Base Clyde (Faslane), a major nuclear submarine base. The report highlighted HMNB Clyde as a ‘NO DRONE ZONE’ and outlined the growing threat of drone incursion, which the MDP aims to address.

The public is encouraged to report any drone sightings, providing details such as time, location, description, direction of travel, and information about the operator.

This situation raises significant security concerns at UK nuclear sites, including power stations, research facilities, reprocessing plants, submarine bases, and defence establishments. These sites are vital for the nation’s energy supply and security.

The motives behind these drone flights range from simple curiosity to potential reconnaissance.

The MDP, however, along with other security agencies, remains vigilant in monitoring and responding to these incidents from what I am able to gather, ensuring the safety and integrity of the UK’s nuclear infrastructure.

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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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Mr Bell
Mr Bell
3 months ago

The UK really needs to get serious about GBAD and anti-drone hardware. Why key infrastructure and defence sites have not already got layered air defences I simply do not know, except the usual incompetence from our politicians.

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Exactly. I wonder if it’s time we brought some of UKraine’s experienced AD people over here to show us how it’s done. I particularly admire the German Gephard system

Rudeboy
Rudeboy
3 months ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Lets get this right….

You want to loose off a load of 35mm near nuclear sites in inhabited areas….

Great idea…

Dokis
Dokis
3 months ago
Reply to  Rudeboy

I think it was clear, not firing on the nuclear site nor on houses

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
3 months ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Aren’t the army trialing something that can be used for shooting down drones? Special sites for rifles ?

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
3 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

….or even sights.

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
3 months ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Yes, the SmartShooter SMASH Smart Weapon Sight Fire Control System – DE&S have bought “hundreds” of them

Tom Dunlop wrote an article about the new sights earlier this year, as I recall

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
3 months ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Thanks David. 👍

AlexS
AlexS
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

People worry about “education” , NHS, Quango and NGO jobs, other jobs, football etc.

How many times a month people think about GBAD? less than they think about Roman Empire…most don’t even know GBAD exists..

Mark F
Mark F
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

Mr Bell,
How about a signals disrupter(to disconnect operator with drone), a proposed field creating a wall of signal disruption at a safe distance from the facility.
Make it circular around the facility so no corridors can be infiltrated, say every 3 metres !
Bit like proximity mines without the bang just a signal disruption( pulse every 2 secs for a period of time)

George
George
3 months ago
Reply to  Mr Bell

There seems to be considerable investment in anti-drone R&D. I wonder how much of that cash comes from GB. It’s a pity we cannot train Golden Eagles or Peregrines to seek and destroy drones.

Mandy
Mandy
3 months ago
Reply to  George

No but you can use AI robots 😁😜

George
George
3 months ago
Reply to  Mandy

Birds of prey are being trained to attack drones. Search: Eagle-eyed: Dutch police to train birds to take down unauthorised drones. The US are training Bald Eagles to do the same.

The Big Man
The Big Man
3 months ago

Report of drone flying, Officers conducted area search, operator located. Spoken to by Officers, who viewed footage from drone, operator voluntarily deleted all footage.

Pilot/operator then went home and used recovery software to pull the files of his SD card before uploading to Beijing/Moscow.
The memory card should be confiscated. I was amazed at how many photos I recovered from a card that is formatted after each holiday, it went back over five years. Surely the CNC or MDP know that deleting files files simply flags the location as available for new storage.

Coll
Coll
3 months ago
Reply to  The Big Man

Considering the police will use data recovery software in investigations. As much as I hate property taking off people, it would be wise for the police to take all the cards. Photographs have a trick to avoid handing over the real card.

Barry Larking
Barry Larking
3 months ago

Not trivial incidents. Flying over or within a specified distance of any nuclear or defence sensitive site should be illegal.

Last edited 3 months ago by Barry Larking
Larry
Larry
3 months ago

Drone operator should have drone and recording equipment confiscated and should be jailed for minimum two years. If the drone operator is a foreign national he should be charged with espionage.

Dokis
Dokis
3 months ago
Reply to  Larry

Little harsh are you

grizzler
grizzler
3 months ago
Reply to  Dokis

harsh…but fair…

Tom
Tom
3 months ago

See… I’ve said it all along. Big budget on Drones, and smaller faster deadlier missiles.

We’re on a winner trigger!

Coll
Coll
3 months ago

£50 says that it was Greenpeace at these sites. Who remembers the manhunt after a drone was allegedly spotted at Standsted or Gatwick and caused a shutdown and ended up arresting the wrong people?

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
3 months ago
Reply to  Coll

That incident was determined to be a UFO, with which British airspace is constantly afflicted. The RAF is unable to secure our airspace from these obvious alien drone recce missions because they don’t have enough airworthy Typhoons. Ask Daniele Mandeli

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 months ago
Reply to  David Lloyd

Agree re the long history of “UFO” sightings in the UKADR, that goes back decades, but did not know the Gatwick drone incident was put down to a “UFO” mate?
Thought they caught the culprit?

David Lloyd
David Lloyd
3 months ago

Hi Daniele. I looked into this incident at the time. What appears to have happened is that the neighbours of a perfectly innocent couple phoned the Sussex police and told them – without any evidence – that they had seen the couple with a drone in their back garden. So it must be them! A Sussex police armed response team then turned up mob handed at 3 in the morning, dragged the couple out of bed and took them into custody in handcuffs – while they searched the property. Twelve armed officers swooped on the couple’s home, even though they… Read more »

David Barry
David Barry
3 months ago

Back in the 90s early naughties, rumour control said CNC at Sellafield were armed with stingers, as well as things gimpys.

About time to start using them and much like the USAF, have a QRF Helo that can target the operator.

Alex
Alex
3 months ago

“Report of drone at 20,000 feet. Nothing found.
No sh#t Sherlock! Basic common sense will tell you everything about that one!
Am actual drone at 20k feet would be a military matter and not someone on the ground.
This reels of the stupidity of some commercial.pilota claiming to be able to see small hobby grade drones passing their airliners at 250 knots.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex

Balloons, another type of drone, or something else. A “wedge shaped” craft/drone had a near miss with a BA jet in the 90s, north of Manchester I recall.
I would not think commercial airline pilots stupid.

John
John
3 months ago

Just ban the bloody things. Simples.

George Allison
George Allison
3 months ago
Reply to  John

Terrible ideas often are simple.

John
John
3 months ago
Reply to  George Allison

Where security of installations and national interests are at stake? Hardly. One day these things will be used by terrorists, and the public will demand a ban.

grizzler
grizzler
3 months ago
Reply to  George Allison

It makes you wonder how we ever got things done without them…

SailorBoy
SailorBoy
3 months ago
Reply to  grizzler

We did, just not as well

Ern
Ern
3 months ago

Seems to me a lot of these drones are figments of someone’s imagination

Ke
Ke
3 months ago
Reply to  Ern

Quite a few entering the prison system..big profitable business there

Bob
Bob
3 months ago
Reply to  Ern

Hear, hear….

John Dakin
John Dakin
3 months ago

I write as a qualified, CAA licensed and insured professional drone pilot! Years ago when anybody purchased a TV set – the selling body had to forward the name of address to the appropriate department of government! The same should happen to the purchasers of drones, who then would be required to send as a legal requirement proof of their flight competency and insurance details before they are allowed to fly any drone. That would enable full control and traceability of drone operations- for the safety and security of us all ! The regulations as they no stand are “way… Read more »

JohnG
JohnG
3 months ago
Reply to  John Dakin

All this would do is penalise normal people whilst there n’er do wells would find ways to go around ut

Bob
Bob
3 months ago

20 thousand feet… drones used for commercial and police and hobyist go to about 1500 ft max, law states 400ft…. where does 20k ft come from, person must be retarded who said this…

Mark
Mark
3 months ago

The US Navy reported UFOs near Nuclear site, with one witnessed by a whole squadron, are they confirmed drones at 20,000 ft?🤔

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
3 months ago
Reply to  Mark

A weather Balloon, a “UFO” another type of craft, who knows.

Hamish Bremner
Hamish Bremner
3 months ago

It’s not even the military police who look after the nuclear sites, it’s the CNC civil nuclear constabulary so if the data is only from MP then it’s doesn’t include the likes of power stations or even Sellafield as that’s under the CNC

terence patrick hewett
terence patrick hewett
3 months ago

What anti-drone security is present at the AWE site at Aldermaston? You can bet the farm that they would not put up with any sort of drone activity.