PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- A new report indicates there was a “drone-a-palooza” incident over the Palo Verde Generating Station, operated by the Arizona Public Service (APS), west of Phoenix in 2019.
The FOIA details the first event happened on Sept. 29, 2019 just before 11 p.m., “Daphne Rodriguez, an Acting Security Section Chief at the plant, called the duty officer at NRC's (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) Headquarters Operations Center (HOC). Rodriguez reported that a number of drones were flying over and around a restricted area near the nuclear power plant's Unit 3, which houses one of its three pressurized water reactors.”
According to the FOIA, obtained by Johnson, an officer noticed five or six drones flying over the Palo Verde Generating Station. Officers believed the drones were over two feet in diameter with spotlights on while approaching the station.
The very next night, the same documents indicate more drones flew over the area. This time four drones were sighted. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the scene but could not find any drone operators.
Officials with APS confirm to the Arizona's Family newsroom that their security team at Palo Verde Generating Station detected unauthorized drone activity near the plant on the evenings of September 29 and 30, 2019.
APS officials say they notified Homeland Security, the FAA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office about the incident.
"These drones never posed a threat to the safe operation of the plant, and we cannot speculate on their origins or intent," APS officials said.
Arizona’s Family reached out to MCSO for more information about these drone sightings over Palo Verde Generating Station. They confirmed they responded twice in Sept. 2019.
At this time, it is unclear who was operating the drones in the restricted airspace and what their intent was.
APS officials say the potential for damage from a drone is small compared with natural hazards that the plants were built to handle.
Nuclear Power Plant Incident Plan
There is a plan in place if there is ever an incident at the Palo Verde plant. Local agencies have developed a plan which include two "emergency planning zones" around the plant.
If you live within a 10-mile radius of the plant, which includes some of Buckeye, you would be asked to take actions such as sheltering, evacuation or process to a care center for the distribution of potassium iodide.
About Palo Verde Generating Station
Palo Verde Generating Station has many layers of protection, according to APS officials, including a large, highly trained, highly capable security force.
We don't provide details of security measures, but the public can be assured Palo Verde is a safe, reliable and carbon-free resource for Arizona.
According to APS, The Palo Verde Generating Station in Tonopah is a “critical asset to the Southwest, generating more than 32 million megawatt-hours annually, enough power for more than 4 million people.”
APS indicates the Palo Verde station is the “heart of the APS generation fleet.”
The plant has 2,500 full-time employees and provides an annual economic impact of more than $2 billion. In December, APS announced executive changes to Palo Verde. Executive Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Bob Bement retired and Maria Lacal took over, effective January 21.
The NRC has given the operator of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station permission to work its employees 16 hours per day and as many as 86 hours in a week, according to a letter from the NRC obtained by CBS 5 Investigates.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given the operator of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station permission to work its employees 18 hours per day and as many as 86 hours in a week.
The exemption from the NRC also allows the company to require employees to work 12 hour days for up to 14 days without a day off.
The NRC found that "there is no undue risk to public health and safety from granting the requested exemption," according to the letter.
The NRC has granted similar exemptions to other nuclear reactors across the country and allowed some facilities to postpone scheduled maintenance. Environmental groups warn that reducing maintenance, worker's protections, and oversight could lead to accidents.
Stay with Arizona's Family for updates on this developing story.