Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement that he’s “beyond outraged by this completely unacceptable deception.” He called the move “reckless disregard” for the safety of Nevadans by the Trump administration.
The plutonium was transported out of South Carolina to comply with a federal judge’s earlier ruling that a metric ton of the dangerous material had to be removed from a Savannah River site by 2020.
Sisolak said that the Department of Energy had led state officials to believe they were engaged in good-faith negotiations over the plutonium shipment. “Those negotiations were a sham all along,” he said.
The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration insisted in a statement that “efforts were made” to inform the state’s congressional representatives about the shipment, though it did not name any. The NNSA also said it objected to calling the plutonium “waste.” This “material is essential for maintenance of the U.S. weapons stockpile,” it stated. The message was apparently later removed.
The secret material transfer is the latest move in the Trump administration’s plan to store nuclear waste and material in Nevada ― moves Nevadans oppose. Recently the Trump administration has been working to revive a decades-old plan to store nuclear waste underground in the Yucca Mountains.
Word of the secret shipment was finally revealed in court Wednesday in response to a state filing late last year for an injunction to block the shipment. The DOE revealed that by the time the state filed its court action the NNSA had already shipped half a metric ton of the plutonium to the blue state.
The previously classified information about the shipment could finally be revealed because “sufficient time had elapsed” so that it no longer posed a threat to national security, according to the DOE’s court filing. The date of the shipment was not revealed.
The federal court filing argued that no more shipments are planned and Nevada’s court action is therefore moot. But Nevada lawyers argued that an emergency injunction is even more urgent because the federal agencies cannot be trusted.
Federal officials “lied to the state of Nevada, misled a federal court and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment,” Sisolak said at a press conference Wednesday.
State lawyers have argued in court that the DOE violated environmental law by failing to adequately study the dangers of moving the plutonium to a region subject to floods and earthquakes, and that the state’s groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.