Judge Denies Nevada's Second Plutonium Injunction Bid
A federal judge has denied Nevada's latest request to immediately block all future shipments of weapons-grade plutonium to a national security site north of Las Vegas. Energy Department officials say they had to keep the shipment secret until now for national security reasons.
A federal judge has denied Nevada's latest request to immediately block all future shipments of weapons-grade plutonium to a national security site north of Las Vegas.
U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du denied the state's request for a temporary restraining order on Thursday, a day after the Energy Department revealed it already has shipped one-half metric ton of the highly radioactive material from South Carolina to Nevada.
The judge in Reno says she will allow to proceed on a regular schedule proceedings related to the merits of a lawsuit Nevada filed in November seeking to block plans the Energy Department approved in August to transfer a full metric ton of plutonium to Nevada.
The department disclosed for the first time Wednesday it secretly trucked half that much to the site near Las Vegas sometime before November and said it doesn't intend to ship any more there.
Earlier, the judge denied Nevada's initial request to block the shipment of weapons-grade plutonium that the Energy Department has revealed already occurred months ago.
Gov. Steve Sisolak says the state is considering seeking a contempt of court order after he says the government lied about the transfer of the plutonium.
Energy Department officials say they had to keep the shipment secret until now for national security reasons.
Deputy Attorney General Marta Adams says in a new affidavit Justice Department lawyers assured her no shipment would occur before Jan. 21.
The Energy Department released this statement:
The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) is committed to protecting the health, safety, and security of the public at all of our sites as we conduct our important national security missions. The recent plutonium shipments to the Nevada National Security Site were undertaken to comply with an order issued by the U.S. District Court in South Carolina.
It is inaccurate to state that the Members of the Nevada delegation were not informed of this movement. The Department of Energy was as transparent as operational security would permit. Efforts were made to ensure that Members of Congress representing the states involved were notified of the planned movement ahead of time, as early as August 2018 when NNSA publicly released the plan in a Supplement Analysis. Since then, NNSA confirmed that it was “actively engaged” in removing one metric ton of plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada, Texas, and New Mexico.**
It is also inaccurate to characterize this material as “waste”. This material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile, and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites as part of our national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.
To the Governor's surprise, a shipment of weapons-grade Plutonium has been delivered to a site in Southern Nevada in the middle of a court battle to stop it. The Department of Energy says that the nuclear materials were shipped before the injunction to stop the shipment was filed.
It's a move that state officials have been against for some time - there have been ongoing conversations going as far back as April with the Department of Energy. State officials obviously had a lot of concerns.
There was a meeting at headquarters in Washington, D.C. in October. In November a letter was sent asking for specific commitments and timelines for any transfer of Plutonium. Come to find out - a lot of these conversations didn't seem to matter.
"This is all the while they had already shipped some plutonium," said Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford. "We're having good faith negotiations with the DOE and the Federal Government, but they had already shipped this Plutonium."
The Department of Energy shipped half a metric ton of weapons-grade Plutonium from South Carolina to a site in Southern Nevada sometime before November - and that's about all anyone here seems to know.
"We don't know how it was transported, the route, how many states, how many potential people were impacted," Governor Sisolak said.
"And as of now, they also don't know if any more is on the way."
"But if past is prologue, I wouldn't be surprised if some was on the way," Ford said. "Which is why we are in court right now trying to convince a judge to issue a TRO and injunction disallowing this from taking place."
According to lawyers with the DOE, we're only hearing about this now because it's a matter of national security. Governor Sisolak called it reckless and irresponsible.
"To put the health and well-being of millions of people at risk through the transportation and in Nevada without giving us the chance to prepare in case there would have been a mishap along the way, I think was irresponsible and reckless on behalf of the department," he said.
He says he doesn't want the radioactive material here now... or in the future.
"It is not our intent to allow it to be in the facility," he said. "I feel it was in poor faith that they did this, it was a disingenuous position they held and it's our intention it was never supposed to be stored there."
Asked if it Nevada was the final resting place for the material, he said, "not if we have anything to say about it."
Ford filed a temporary restraining order this afternoon to go along with the injunction filed in Federal Court earlier this month. Nevada's Federal legislators are involved with the effort as well.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)