The Savannah River Site was abuzz this summer after a number of unmanned aerial systems, otherwise known as drones, were sighted in the airspace above many of the Site's buildings, including the sensitive K Area.
By late July, there were nine reported drone-sighting incidents in the area, each prompting site-wide security alerts.
A potential 10th sighting in September stirred things up, but U.S. Department of Energy officials quickly announced that an investigation had proven the sighting to be a false alarm.
Since then, silence has seemingly fallen over the issue. During the height of sightings, officials announced investigations were ongoing, including assistance from outside agencies. However, no results have been released.
That silence prompted Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch, to submit official requests to try and get a hold of some of the documentation for himself.
“Given how much SRS whipped up the drone issue over the summer, I was quite surprised to hear them say nothing about it in their update at the (Citizens Advisory Board) meeting two weeks ago, or in any fashion that I'm aware of over the past couple of months," Clements said in an email to the Aiken Standard.
Sources on site have reported photographs taken of the drones, and DOE officials cited video evidence as part of the investigation that indicated the final sighting was not an actual UAS, or unmanned aerial system. Officials have not released the type or types of UAS’s seen during the summer or what sparked the drone reports in the false sighting.
Clements said SRS officials never indicated whether laws were broken, and that the drone flights seemed to be within Federal Aviation Agency regulations, so long as the pilot was located off-site.
In an email delivered to site employees in early July, officials said, “There have been several reports of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) flying over various areas on SRS to include the K Area Complex, H Area, E Area and the MOX Facility. Although airspace over the SRS is not currently restricted, these flights do pose a safety and security concern.”
According to Clements, questions remain of the continued silence from the Energy Department and whether the reported flyovers were determined to be security risks.
The reported flyovers were concurrent with changing Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding UAS flights. New regulations released in June restricted UAS flight to 400 feet or lower and not within 400 feet of a building. The FAA also has an app to help drone pilots stay within regulations called B4UFLY. The app shows areas, such as airports, that have restricted airspace.
According to the digital FAA tool, there is only one area at SRS with restricted airspace around a helicopter pad on site.
It's still seemingly legal to fly a UAS over the site, according to FAA regulations, so long as the pilot is physically located off-site.
DOE officials have previously said that the pilot’s whereabouts and intentions were unknown - questions Clements hopes to answer soon.