Trump administration secretly shipped weapons-grade plutonium from S. Carolina to Nevada


JANUARY 31, 2019

In this 2017 photo, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, center, accompanied by Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan, second from right, learns about capabilities at the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility from Jeff Yarbrough, right. (Photo: AP photo)

Gov. Brian Sandoval said he will use every resource to ensure high level nuclear waste does not come to the Silver State following an announcement by President Trump to restart the planning process.

The U.S. Department of Energy has disclosed that it already shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium to a site in Nevada.

The Department of Energy disclosed Wednesday that it has shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site, despite Nevada’s objections.

The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno the government had already trucked the radioactive material to the site 70 miles north of Las Vegas when Nevada filed a request for an injunction to block the move in November.

Department lawyers said in a nine-page filing that the previously classified information about the shipment from South Carolina can be disclosed now because enough time has passed to protect national security. They didn’t specify when the transfer occurred.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said he’s “beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception.” The Democrat said he’s working with Nevada’s congressional delegation to fight back against the federal government’s “reckless disregard” for the safety of Nevadans.

Justice Department lawyers said Wednesday that no more shipments of weapons-grade plutonium are planned from South Carolina to Nevada. They argued Nevada’s lawsuit aimed at blocking the shipments is now moot.

But lawyers for Nevada said that their bid for an emergency injunction is more critical than ever after the energy department misled them about the shipments. They say the government has created the “palpable suspicion” that more shipments are coming to Nevada.

U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du in Reno is considering the state’s request to block the plans announced in August to ship the plutonium from South Carolina, where a federal judge previously issued an order that the plutonium be removed from a Savannah River site by January 2020.

Nevada argues the DOE has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes, and that the state’s lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.

The Energy Department defended its decision in court on Jan. 17. Its lawyers argued at the time that it doesn’t have to disclose top-secret details of the shipment plans because of national security.

Du expressed sympathy at times for the state’s argument during the evidentiary hearing, but declined to immediately grant the state’s request to block the shipment and indicated she wouldn’t rule until February.

“I hope the government doesn’t ship plutonium pending a ruling by this court,” she said at the time.

Sisolak said Wednesday the energy department led the state to believe it was engaged in good-faith negotiations over the plutonium “only to reveal that those negotiations were a sham all along.”

“They lied to the state of Nevada, misled a federal court and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment,” he said.

Experts testifying on behalf of Nevada said the material likely would have to pass directly through Las Vegas on the way to the Nevada National Security Site. They fear an accident could permanently harm an area that boasts 2.2 million residents and more than 40 million tourists a year.

The Energy Department says it has safely shipped the toxic material between states before. Federal officials say the plutonium would only be “staged” in Nevada before moving on to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. They say shipments to Nevada would avoid heavily populated areas of Las Vegas.

Nevada’s congressional delegation swiftly condemned the newly disclosed shipment.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., called the move an “injustice.” She vowed it would not clear a path for federal officials to revive long-stalled plans to dump nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

“If the Trump administration thinks that making such a reckless decision under the shroud of secrecy will allow them to move forward with Yucca Mountain, they are mistaken,” Titus said in a statement. “I will work tirelessly with Governor Sisolak and the Nevada delegation to fight the U.S. Department of Energy’s unchecked and unethical activity.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., also warned Trump against moving ahead with plans to ship waste to Yucca. Masto said she had scheduled a Thursday briefing with DOE officials to talk about the secret plutonium delivery.

“The Trump administration will find that I’ll be shining a bright light on this, as well as any high level effort to bring nuclear waste into our state by reviving Yucca Mountain,” Masto said in a statement. “The voices of Nevadans must be heard and I’ll be fighting for legislation that makes certain their voices are heard on this issue and this never happens behind the backs of Nevadans again.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., expressed support for Sisolak’s pledge to fight back in court.

“They misled a federal court along with members of Nevada’s delegation, including our very own governor, in a deceitful and unethical move, jeopardizing the health and safety of thousands of Nevadans and Americans who live in close proximity to shipment routes,” Rosen said in a statement. “This is a serious issue and the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., piled on, calling the shipment “egregious.”

Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., sounded similarly displeased with the “deceptive and dangerous” move.

“Governor Sisolak and his office have the full backing of my office and have my support to pursue any action he has at his disposal,” Lee said in a statement. “We will not stand for this.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said Northern Nevada’s lone congressman was in the process of scheduling meetings with officials from the Nuclear Waste Projects Office and DOE to be “briefed further on the issue.”

Courtesy/Source: Associated Press