Weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina was secretly shipped to a nuclear security site in Nevada months ago despite Nevadans' protests, the Department of Energy revealed on Wednesday.
The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno that the government trucked in the radioactive material to store at a site 70 miles north of Las Vegas before Nevada asked a court 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.
“Because sufficient time has now elapsed after conclusion of this campaign, DOE may now publicly state that it has completed all shipment of plutonium (approximately ½ metric ton) to Nevada,” Bruce Diamond, general counsel for the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, wrote in the court declaration, noting that the action was previously classified, as The Hill reported. “Although the precise date that this occurred cannot be revealed for reasons of operational security, it can be stated that this was done before November 2018, prior to the initiation of the litigation.”
Energy Department lawyers didn’t specify when the one-half metric ton of plutonium was transferred.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, said in a statement to Fox News Wednesday: “I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from the U.S. Department of Energy. The Department led the State of Nevada to believe that they were engaging in good-faith negotiations with us regarding a potential shipment of weapons-grade 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. My administration is working with our federal delegation, and we will use the full force of every legal tool available to fight back against the federal government’s reckless disregard for the safety of our state.”
Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen called the move “deceitful and unethical,” and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, also a Nevada Democrat, said she would demand department officials come to her office on Thursday to explain how they made the “reckless decision” in such “bad faith.”
Democratic Rep. Dina Titus said the Trump administration has repeatedly tried to use Nevada as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.
Trump revived a decades-old proposal to store the nation’s nuclear waste at another site outside Las Vegas, Yucca Mountain, after the project was essentially halted under the Obama administration.
Justice Department lawyers also said Wednesday that no more shipments of weapons-grade plutonium are planned from South Carolina to Nevada. They said they believe Nevada’s lawsuit aimed at blocking the shipments is now moot.
But lawyers for Nevada said Wednesday 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 Judge Miranda Du in Reno is considering the state’s request to block the Energy Department’s plans, announced in August, to ship a full metric ton of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina, where a federal judge previously ordered that the plutonium be removed from a Savannah River site by 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.