Friday, 21 December 2018

Drone Dangers: from airports to nuclear power plants

Thirty months ago I researched and wrote a briefing on insecurities in the nuclear industry, which was published as a briefing by the Nuclear Free Local Authorities. Below is an extract from the  section on drone dangers, which I think in light of the Gatwick Airport  incident, needs to be careful re-examined. [my thanks to Neil Crumpton, on whose original research I based this  work]

The fast emerging threat from drones
The first innovative, small drone attack by a malicious / radical group will inevitably be a wake-up
call to public and politicians. This new security threat was not present when the Government‘s
National Policy Statement (NPS) on nuclear power facilities was published in 2011. In 2015,
drones were flown close to a number of French nuclear facilities and the security agencies were
not clear in the initial phase the identity of those actually using them. This is a perfect example of
how unexpected nuclear security threats from drones could be. (35)
The fast emerging 'drones' threat, and the enhanced threat from malicious groups more generally,
would suggest that the size of the site area should be reviewed in terms of 'defence-in-depth'
security and public safety in any review of the UK Government‘s national policy statement on
nuclear generation. An increase of the in-site area, potentially clear-felled to facilitate the safe
A258 (NB145) – NFLA Briefing No 145 Nuclear security 9
elimination of drones threatening a site, may have significant implications for sites adjacent to
populated urban areas, (e.g. Hartlepool), proposed sites for decentralised Small Modular Reactors
(SMRs), and sites near or constrained by protected areas e.g. Sites of Special Scientific Interest
The Government‘s Nuclear National Policy Statement (using ONR guidelines) currently
recommends a site area of 30-50 hectares per (around 1.6 GW) reactor/store with regard to
defence-in-depth site security (defined by IAEA), decommissioning area, etc. So a new nuclear
reactor - 2.8-3.4 GW twin / triple project - might require a site area (enclosed by the perimeter
fence) to be around 60-100 hectares or more. The actual buildings area footprint of a twin / triple
reactor project might be around 10 hectares of the perimeter site area. Presumably coastal sites
with no public beach access and a (marked) seaward exclusion zone might require a smaller
secure land area.
The average drones available at present could potentially carry a few kilograms of shaped
demolition charges, shrapnel, poison gas, petrol, chaff, glue, booby-traps, decoys, distraction
devices, and so on. One heavily-ladened small drone could probably travel at least 20 mph (9
meters per second) with a load of 5-10 kg. Just one 5 kg shaped charge can penetrate 0.75 meters
(30 inches) of reinforced concrete, or 0.25 meters (10 inches) of steel. (36)
Lone, several or mass drone attacks, some pre-programmed and perhaps controlled from remote
locations, could be potentially staged against nuclear stations, fuel and waste transports or other
sites such as reprocessing and surface waste repository facilities. Other drones could video the
proceedings for download to the internet for the use of malicious groups. It may also be possible
that multiple or mass drone attacks could precede, be a distraction, or form part of an attack by
malicious groups or individuals with heavier demolition charges. It should be noted that just one 20
kg demolition charge can punch a hole through 1.5 meters of concrete. (37) The proposed Hinkley
Point C double dome concrete containment walls (dome over reactor and other critical areas) are
between 1.3 and 1.8 meters thick. (38) The spent fuel ponds and diesel back-ups proposed at the
site are behind a 1.3 to 1.8 metre wall. (39)
It is foreseeable that drones could be launched from vehicles parked close to perimeter fences and
could travel quickly, and or possibly stealthily, to a target. Site defence response times (i.e. target
acquisition-assessment-decision-action) would be minimal. In 20 to 40 seconds a drone travelling
at just 20 mph could cover between 180 to 360 meters. Some currently available drones can now
reach 50 mph (40) and are highly controllable and manoeuvrable at speed. (41) It could be very
difficult for on-site security forces to be able to stop such a threat from a single or multiple drone
Drones have the potential to become a major weapon in asymmetric warfare in the 21st Century.
The unidentified flights over French nuclear stations in summer 2015 should be seen as a major
wake-up call for the nuclear industry. Military drones have been used to considerable effect by the
US, UK and Russia in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries, and by Israel above
Another important analysis of the threat from drones was published in March 2015 by Dr David
Lochbaum, currently the director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned
Scientists. It argues drones can have positive utility for nuclear power plant safety, by carrying out
authorised aerial surveillance; but it also identifies malevolent drone hazards.
Dr Lochbaum writes: ―But drones have a potential dark side. Reports of drones buzzing around
French nuclear plants prompted considerable discussion about whether drones carrying explosives
could wreak damage. The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that the steps mandated by
the US NRC after the 9/11 tragedy, to reduce nuclear plant vulnerabilities to damage inflicted by a
piloted aircraft on a suicide mission, also protect against explosive-laden drones. The NRC‘s post-
9/11 upgrades did not eliminate the suicide aircraft threat entirely, however, and multiple explosive
laden drones might be able to overwhelm the upgrades.‖ (42)
In addition, drones could distract the plant‘s security responders. Similar to how military pilots use
countermeasures to confuse incoming missiles, ground-based attackers could employ drones to
lure security responders away from an attack route. In the ‗force-on-force‘ exercises conducted
periodically to test nuclear plant security capabilities, mock attackers penetrate fences and proceed
rapidly through the plant, simulating the destruction of equipment needed to cool the reactor core.
Security personnel respond to intrusion-detection alarms and to indications that locked doors have
been blown open by rushing to take defensive positions behind bullet-resistant enclosures—
located between the intruders and the remaining equipment that could trigger a meltdown if
sufficiently damaged
The exercises have demonstrated that the responders need not be delayed long to tilt the
advantage in favor of the attackers. Drones broadcasting loud sounds of explosions and gunfire,
for example, could confuse and slow down the responders. Likewise, collisions with the perimeter
fence—activating the intrusion-detection system—could send responders on time-consuming ‗wild
drone‘ chases. (43)
In a paper by the ‗Remote Control‘ project of the Network for Social Change, hosted by the Oxford
Research Group, they acknowledge that no single countermeasure is completely effective at
limiting the hostile use of drones by non-state actors. They therefore suggest that: ―…the United
Kingdom adopts a hierarchy of countermeasures encompassing regulatory, passive and active
countermeasures, which provides a layered defence. Regulatory countermeasures include point of
sale regulations, civil aviation rules and manufacturing standards and restrictions. Passive
countermeasures include early warning systems and signal jamming. Active countermeasures
include kinetic defence systems, such as missiles, rockets and bullets, and less-lethal systems,
such as projectile weapons and net guns. Each stage of the hierarchy of countermeasures requires
government action, but it is the regulatory countermeasures upon which it can affect the greatest
change.‖ (44)

(35) The Guardian, ‗Drones spotted over seven nuclear sites, says EDF‘, October 30, 2014
(36) Global

(37) Federal Business
(38) Areva design for EPR at Hinkley Point

(39) Areva EPR design, page 5:


(41) You Tube

(42) Drones at nuclear power plants: enemies or helpers? See Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March23, 2015;
(43) Most French Nuclear Plants 'Should Be Shut Down' Over Drone Threat,‖ Newsweek, 24 February 2015.

(44) Oxford Research Group, Network for Social Change‘s ‗Remote Control‘ project

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