WASHINGTON — Weapons-grade plutonium was sent to a federal facility north of Las Vegas from South Carolina in November, before the Silver State filed a federal lawsuit to stop the shipment of the bomb-making material, the general counsel for the National Nuclear Security Administration disclosed in a court filing Wednesday.
The revelation drew a quick rebuke from Gov. Steve Sisolak who said he was “beyond outraged” at the deception of the U.S. Department of Energy.
“They lied to the State of Nevada, misled a federal court, and jeopardized the safety of Nevada’s families and environment,” Sisolak said in a statement.
The shipment of one-half metric ton of plutonium from South Carolina was done to comply with a U.S. federal district court order in that state, said Bruce Diamond, the NNSA general counsel.
The Department of Energy did not release details about the shipment, which was considered classified until Wednesday, when some information about transfer of the material was declassified to notify Nevada, which filed a lawsuit to stop the move.
A hearing on Nevada’s lawsuit was held this month in federal court in Reno.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., accused the Trump administration of making “a reckless decision under the shroud of secrecy” with unchecked and unethical activity.
Shipping the bomb-making material on highways is just one of the many concerns cited the state’s court filing.
“I don’t want Interstate 11 to become the plutonium expressway,” Robert Halstead, executive director for the Nevada governor’s Agency for Nuclear Projects and Nuclear Waste Project Office, said after the state filed its lawsuit.
The state cited health and environmental concerns in their motion filed Friday to halt the Trump administration from shipping the metric ton of weapon-grade plutonium from the Department of Energy’s Savannah River site in South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site.
The Energy Department is under federal court order in South Carolina to move a metric ton from the site in compliance with national environmental laws.
The state filed its motion in federal district court in Nevada seeking an injunction.
Nevada claims the Trump administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 by filing to conduct an environmental impact study to determine risks for shipping the high-grade material in 35-gallon drums through states to Nevada.
In addition, the state claims that DOE failed to look at five alternative sites, including those in New Mexico, Texas and Tennessee before selecting Nevada to store the material.
The lawsuit was filed by then-state Attorney General Adam Laxalt at the direction of former Gov. Brian Sandoval.
The state argues that once the material is moved, “Nevada will forever lose the ability to formally comment upon safety and environmental concerns related to the shipments.”
Sandoval and members of the state’s congressional delegation announced their opposition to the transfer of the radioactive materials when a federal district court ordered the plutonium moved on May 25.
The National Nuclear Security Administration claims the material would be temporarily stored at DOE-operated NNSS north of Las Vegas until it can be moved to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or another site.
Nevada, in its lawsuit, said shipping the weapons-grade plutonium through Nevada poses a risk of exposure to its populations and environment, including water sources.
The NNSA has shipped bomb-making materials between its sites before, safely, according to the agency.