Despite an ongoing partial government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Justice must argue a court case on Jan. 17 about whether the Department of Energy is allowed to store 1 metric ton of weapon-usable plutonium in Nevada, a federal judge said Wednesday.
The Justice Department represents DOE in the lawsuit brought by Nevada in November in U.S. District Court. The state is seeking a preliminary injunction to block DOE’s plan to store the fissile material at the Nevada National Security Site, some 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The Justice Department had argued that the partial shutdown that began on Dec. 22 left it without funding to appear later this month in Reno to argue on DOE’s behalf. Nevada said DOJ should have to show up anyway, and U.S. District Judge Miranda Du agreed.
In a December 2017 ruling, a separate District Court judge in South Carolina ordered DOE to ship the plutonium out of the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C. by Jan. 1, 2020. That is four years after the deadline set by federal law and an agreement between the state and federal governments.
The Energy Department plans to use the plutonium to manufacture new fissile warhead cores called pits at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Los Alamos does not currently have space to store the plutonium, so the agency wants to shelve the material in Nevada until early next decade.
Nevada wants no part of the plan and in November, after its initial lawsuit, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the agency from moving the plutonium to the former site of atmospheric and underground nuclear explosive tests.