Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada railed against the Department of Energy for what he described as “unacceptable deception,” after the agency transported a half-ton of weapons-grade plutonium to Nevada, allegedly without the state’s consent.
“I am beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception from [The Department of Energy],” Sisolak said in a statement. “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,” Sisolak said.
During a press conference on Jan. 30, 2019, Sisolak said he did not know how the plutonium was transported or the route the Energy Department took to get to Nevada. “They provided us with no information in that regard,” he said.
Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada.
Sisolak said he would look into several options for the plutonium, which had been taken to the Nevada National Security Site.
“To put the health and the well-being of millions of people at risk … without giving us the opportunity to prepare in case there would have been a mishap along the way, was irresponsible and reckless on behalf of the department,” Sisolak said.
In a court filing, the Energy Department reportedly revealed it had completed the shipment of plutonium, but declined to provide specifics due to security reasons. It noted that the transfer was completed before November 2018, prior to an injunction the state had filed during negotiations.
The plutonium was shipped from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina in order to comply with a federal court order in the state, according to a National Nuclear Security Administration official cited in a Las Vegas Review-Journal report.
The National Nuclear Security Administration, the federal agency responsible for nuclear applications in the US military, claimed the plutonium would only be temporarily stored in Nevada before being moved to another facility in New Mexico or elsewhere, The Review-Journal reported.
Lawmakers from Nevada sought an injunction and raised questions about the safety of transporting the nuclear material, including the impact it could have on the environment. The state also claimed the Energy Department failed to conduct a federally mandated study to assess the risks in transportation, and neglected to study alternative sites for depositing the plutonium, according to The Review-Journal.
United States Department of Energy headquarters.
Sisolak said the state filed a temporary restraining order on Wednesday to prevent future shipments, and that he was seeking retribution from the Energy Department.
Throughout 2018, state and the federal officials were in preliminary negotiations for the transportation of plutonium, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford said in the press conference.
In previous group emails, Nevada officials questioned the procedure and said their analysis indicated it was “insufficient … to commence this transaction,” according to Ford.
On Oct. 30, 2018, Nevada officials met with Energy Department officials in Washington, DC, to “express the concerns regarding this proposal,” Ford said. In November 2018, the state also sent a request to the Energy Department for specific commitments and timelines.
“Now, this is all the while … they had already shipped some plutonium,” Ford said. “We’re having good-faith discussions and negotiations … but they had already shipped this plutonium.”
The Energy Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Jan. 30, 2019.
The transportation of nuclear waste is traditionally kept under close guard due to safety concerns. The Office of Secure Transportation within the Energy Department reportedly contracts hundreds of couriers to transport radioactive material using truck convoys.
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