An unapproved, Unmanned Aerial System, also known as a drone, was reported Wednesday over the Savannah River Site for the first time in nearly 14 months.
For several months last summer, drone sightings occurred over nearly all areas on the Department of Energy owned defense nuclear facility, including the retired K Reactor building.
An investigation was launched, including an FBI interview of SRS Watch Director Tom Clements. There were 12 reported drone cases in 2016, at least eight of which were confirmed in presentations by DOE staff to the SRS Citizens Advisory Board.
After each report, a security advisory is delivered to all personnel on site, including an announcement over a loudspeaker system. Since the first sighting in 2016, no suspects have been found and no equipment has been recovered.
In a statement released by a DOE spokesperson, the organization cited safety as its chief concern.
“The safety and security of the Savannah River Site is a top priority. We take all possible UAS sightings seriously and thoroughly investigate each report,” he said in an email.
According to Federal Regulations, UAS operation in national airspace, like that above the nuclear site, must not create a hazard to the public and must not threaten national security. According to the last presentation given to the CAB regarding drones, the DOE and FAA are working together to regulate UAS operations over sensitive facilities.
The K Reactor building is home to more than 10 tons of weapons usable plutonium. Some of that is earmarked for the beleaguered MOX facility and another portion of that is being sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, through a dilute and dispose method of processing.
The DOE has not said whether they have evidence needed to confirm the sighting.
“When the details of the incident are deemed suspicious, threatening or in violation of any laws we coordinate with the appropriate federal, state and local authorities,” the spokesperson said. “The last confirmed UAS sighting was July 22, 2016.”