Morning Briefing - February 05, 2019
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February 05, 2019

Senators Want Classified Details of Plutonium Shipment to Nevada

By ExchangeMonitor

Nevada’s Senate delegation wants unclassified and classified briefings from the Department of Energy about the clandestine shipment last year of half a metric ton of plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site.

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) made the request in a Feb. 1 letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Last week, DOE’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) disclosed that it had shipped the plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site’s Device Assembly Facility before November. The plutonium is part of a one-ton tranche — formerly to be deweaponized forever but now to be used to manufacture fissile weapon cores called pits at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the next decade — a federal judge in 2017 ordered removed from the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.

The NNSA said in August it would move the material out of South Carolina to comply with the court order, and Nevada officials including Cortez Masto and Rosen say that was all the notice they ever got from the agency.

In their letter, the senators accused DOE of lying about the timing of the shipments, and demanded the agency provide classified details about the shipping campaign, including the number of truck shipments and the route over which these materials traveled.

The senators also asked in the letter that “all non-classified responses to our questions be delivered to our offices by Feb. 15, 2019.” They did not say when, or where, they wanted a classified briefing.

Nevada sued the NNSA on Nov. 30 to prevent the agency from moving any plutonium into the Silver State. Last week, the DOE branch acknowledged it had already moved a half ton of plutonium there before the state dropped its lawsuit.

It is not clear whether the other half-ton of plutonium that a U.S. district judge in December 2017 ordered out of South Carolina by Jan. 1, 2020 has already moved to its anticipated destination: the Pantex Plant in Texas. That deadline applies to only 1 metric ton of plutonium from South Carolina; the NNSA says it will move no more of that tranche to Nevada from South Carolina than the half-ton it has already moved.