Drone swarms were spotted flying above the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona two consecutive nights back in late September 2019. Around 10 drones were spotted over the two nights, but no damage was caused to the power plant.

What took place

On the night of September 29, 2019 at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona, something out of the ordinary was happening. Armed guards at the facility noticed five to six drones flying above them at around 8:50 p.m. MST. The drones were reported to have spotlights on them and had red and white flashing lights. As they approached, the spotlights were turned off, and the drones began to circle the Unit 3 building. Over two hours later at around 10:30 p.m. MST, the drones left the power plant.

The next night, the same thing happened. Four drones were spotted flying at around the same time of 8:50 p.m. MST and were still flying at the time the report was made at 9:13 p.m. MST. The security guards believed the drones to be larger than two feet in diameter. This suggests that the drones flying weren’t a common off-the-shelf type and were likely something custom made or manufactured for commercial or military use.

Local law enforcement was called in to search for the drone pilot, but they weren’t able to find the pilot in the area or any of the drones that were spotted flying above.

Who was behind the swarms?

The person or people behind the swarm of drones are still unknown to this day and are believed to have broken no laws as the drones are considered as aircraft and aircraft are allowed to fly over the power plant. As the altitude of the drones are unknown, the above still applies even though the FAA has laws in place that prevent drones from flying below 400 feet over “designated national security sensitive facilities.” Arizona also has its own law that forbids drones from flying lower than 500 feet above “critical infrastructure.”

The airspace above the power plant is now restricted thanks to the work of the FAA, FBI and Department of Energy, hopefully putting a stop to a similar thing taking place in the future.

The danger of drone swarms

This is just one example of the potential damage and danger drone swarms can incur on a key facility like the power plant. Let’s say the drones were equipped with explosives or were a kamikaze style — they would have been able to hit various pipelines and vital areas within the power plant, causing it to slow down energy production at the minimum. If the drones were powerful enough, they could likely knock out a power plant that provides Arizona with 35% of its power and supplies power to Phoenix and Tucson, San Diego and Los Angeles.

Last year, drones struck an oil facility in Saudi Arabia, slowing down the production of oil and gas as the facility was responsible for a large amount of the world’s oil supply. The drones managed to stop an estimated 5.7 million barrels from being produced and resulted in the plant upping its security in the form of anti-drone technology to ensure a similar attack does not happen again.

On that note, the Arizona power plant has opted to not invest in such equipment as it says smaller drones don’t pose a risk to the reactors as they are surrounded by thick layers of concrete.

Photo: Cuhlik

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