What Unidentified Flying Drone…Where?

What Unidentified Flying Drone...Where?

By Sue Prent 

 Never known for its candor, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has actually been caught by Fairewinds in the act of burying an incident record that it had not meant to share publicly.

On Thursday, May 15, an unidentified drone or ultra-light airplane took a leisurely flight over the Interim Spent Fuel Storage Installation (ISFSI) at Maine Yankee, a decommissioned nuclear power plant that still hosts its own purgatory of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

When the incident showed up among the NRC’s event reports on Monday May 18, it was intercepted by some observant folks at Fairewinds, and a link was shared over social media. 

Clicking on the NRC link later that same day revealed that the NRC had removed the report from its site, but those clever early interceptors had already captured and saved the text for all to see.

This act by the NRC leaves us with more than one burning question that begs an answer.

·       Why didn’t the NRC want the public to know that this drone fly-over had occurred?

·       How often in the past might the NRC have suppressed information about other incidents?

·       Why were no measures in place to prevent such a fly-over, when airborne access clearly has the potential for malfeasance?

The first two questions go to the NRCs long history of serving two masters, rather than just the public interest.  All too frequently, the interests of the industry have been allowed to trump those of the public.

In this case, sharing the incident with the public would have inevitably raised doubt about the prudence of the NRCs current policy of allowing nuclear plant owners to dramatically reduce security measures once their reactors have been permanently shut down.

Maine Yankee exists in that post decommissioning never-never land where it still has a robust amount of highly radioactive material stacked on site in concrete casks, like so many lethal Christmas crackers. 

Despite the fact that the casks were never designed for indefinite storage and even the near-term integrity of the concrete is very much in question, Maine Yankee like other inactive nuclear facilities is not required by the NRC to maintain an emergency plan for the safety of the surrounding population should a breach occur, or even a full-on attack.

The pads on which the casks rest are completely exposed to view where they might easily be identified as a terrorist target, should hostile operatives be inclined to crash a plane into them in order to release radioactive matter as a “dirty bomb.”

That an unidentified drone was able to doodle around above the SFSI at Maine Yankee says volumes about the vulnerability of this arrangement.

That the Nuclear Regulatory Agency snatched the report from public view says volumes about the NRC itself, and how committed it is to protecting the interests of the nuclear industry. 

Apparently the NRC prefers that we not have the opportunity to go to that dark place in our minds where we imagine what would happen if weaponized drones visited American nuclear sites.