Morning Briefing - December 06, 2018
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December 06, 2018

DOE Snub on Plutonium Concerns Spurred Nevada Lawsuit

By ExchangeMonitor

Nevada escalated a closed-door dialogue with the Department of Energy (DOE) to the federal court system last month because the agency got cagey about its plans for moving 1 metric ton of nuclear weapon-usable plutonium to and from the state beginning in 2019, according to an affidavit from a state official.

The document was filed as part of the state’s new lawsuit aiming to prevent the plutonium from being shipped into the state.

Earlier this year, DOE settled on a plan to move the plutonium to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico from the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C., with a potential stop at the Nevada National Security Site about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Los Alamos does not currently have room to house the plutonium, DOE has said.

The Energy Department let Nevada in on the plan in April, before publicly releasing an environmental review detailing its intention in late August, according to an affidavit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for Nevada by Pam Robinson, policy director for Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R).

A U.S. District Court judge in South Carolina gave DOE until Jan. 1, 2020, to move 1 metric ton of plutonium out of the state, after the agency failed to dispose of it there as part of a nuclear-materials reduction pact with Russia. The Energy Department wants to use the material to manufacture plutonium pits: fissile nuclear-warhead cores.

From April to November, Nevada and DOE discussed the matter face-to-face and by telephone, and exchanged letters about the agency’s plan. At one point, Sandoval spoke by phone with Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Nevada wanted details: How would DOE move the plutonium? How would the agency keep the heavily traveled roads near tourist mecca Las Vegas safe from harm? How long would the plutonium remain at the Nevada National Security Site?

Ultimately, DOE gave Nevada nothing other than “a general ‘expectation’ that any plutonium would be removed by approximately 2026-27,” Robinson wrote in her affidavit.

Amid the communications breakdown, Nevada filed suit Nov. 30.