Flouting Nuclear Drone Ban in Sweden Will Land You in Jail

  • No-fly zones start Oct. 15 to protect national security
  • Swedish police focus on tackling pilots on the ground

If you’re planning a drone fly-by at any of Sweden’s reactors, think again.

The Nordic region’s biggest producer of atomic energy will from Oct. 15 add nuclear plants to a list of sites including airports and hospitals with no-fly zones in an effort to preserve national security. If caught, drone pilots face as long as 6 months behind bars, according to the Swedish police.

Sweden is tightening its rules amid growing international concern about the security threat posed by drones, which have buzzed French nuclear reactors, landed on the White House lawn and even crashed into the stands at this month’s U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York. While France is backing research into tracking and destroying illegal unmanned craft, Sweden is opting to pursue the pilots on the ground.

“It has to land somewhere,” said Christer Fuxborg, a police spokesman in Halland, Sweden, where Vattenfall AB’s Ringhals nuclear power plant is located. “We won’t stand shooting wildly around us, it’s easier to just locate the person with the radio control device.”

The Ringhals plant on Sweden’s west coast reported a drone sighting to the police as recently as Sept. 8, Anna Staalnacke, a spokeswoman at the plant, said by phone on Sept. 11. That followed another in August.

Nuclear power plants, which meet about 50 percent of the nation’s power demand, are classified as vital installations under Swedish law. That makes it illegal to photograph the facilities without a permit in order to guard against the planning of sabotage, espionage or terrorism.

Greenpeace flew a piloted paraglider over Ringhals in 2013, dropping balloons on the roof of one of the reactor buildings, according to Vattenfall.
While environmental activists have parasailed, hurdled fences and climbed buildings at Swedish nuclear plants in attempts to demonstrate poor security, seaweed and jellyfish have been more effective in cutting output by blocking flows of cooling water.

For Ringhals, the main concern is drones taking photos illegally or accidentally injuring staff rather than halting the reactors, Staalnacke said.

No Hobby

Flying a drone over banned areas would void any form of insurance to cover damages caused by the craft, according to Claes Wahlund, the chairman of the Swedish Model Airplane Association.

“Flying over a nuclear power plant is not a hobby,” he said by phone on Thursday. “Without insurance, pilots could really be in deep trouble.”

Illegal drone flights near Swedish airports forced air traffic to halt at least 10 times this year, Ulf Wallin, spokesman for Swedavia AB, the manager of 10 of the nation’s airports, said Thursday by phone. Two Lithuanian men that flew a drone over a military airport in Lidkoeping, Sweden, in May were fined 2,000 kronor ($240) each, Swedish news service TT reported.

While Ringhals views any breach of the no-fly zone as a police matter, it’s still assessing ways of detecting drones, Staalnacke said, without being more specific.

Under existing law, anyone who destroys a drone, even the police, would be liable to pay the owner to replace it, police spokesman Fuxborg said.

Ringhals and Forsmark, another plant owned by Vattenfall on Sweden’s east coast, were granted a temporary flight ban from Sept. 7 until the permanent no-fly zone takes effect Oct. 15. EON SE’s Oskarshamn reactor in the southeast also gets the permanent ban from Oct. 15, Emmy Davidsson, a spokeswoman for the plant, said Tuesday by phone.

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