Nevada officials vow to fight federal plutonium storage plan
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A federal government plan to ship weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to a U.S. nuclear materials handling facility about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Las Vegas drew protests and official outrage Thursday from Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and a bipartisan group of the state’s congressional delegation.
The Republican governor, whose term ends in December, posted a vow on Twitter to, in his words, “fight ... at every level” the U.S. Energy Department announcement that it will store radioactive bomb-making material at the former Nevada nuclear test site, with no designated time for removal.
A National Nuclear Security Administration official said the plan was developed after a federal court ordered the removal of more than 2,200 pounds (1 metric ton) of plutonium by January 2020 from the Savannah River reservation, which was built in the 1950s to refine nuclear weapon materials.
The plutonium would be “temporarily staged” at the Nevada National Security Site and at the Pantex Plant for weapons assembly and disassembly in Texas for eventual shipment to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico “or another facility,” NNSA spokesman Greg Wolf said.
“We ship this type of material routinely between NNSA sites as part of our national security mission and we have done so safely and securely for decades,” Wolf said. He did not say when shipments would start.
U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, posted a letter demanding that Energy Secretary Rick Perry stop what Heller called an “unreasonable and unnecessary” plan and order a broad environmental study of health and safety risks “before any further action is taken.”
“Not only does shipping up to 1 metric ton of plutonium across the country likely present risks to the Americans living along the proposed transportation routes,” Heller said in a statement, “storing this type of material just a few miles outside of Las Vegas could ... have a devastating effect on our state’s tourism economy.”
Heller’s opponent in the November election, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, accused Perry of “recklessly pushing this proposal forward without properly assessing the impact.”
Democratic U.S. Reps. Dina Titus and Ruben Kihuen also declared their opposition to storing weapons-grade plutonium not far from Las Vegas, which has 2 million residents and draws more than 42 million annual visitors.
The facility designated to accept the plutonium shipments is near, but separate from, Yucca Mountain.
That’s a site Nevada’s congressional delegation and governors have long fought to prevent from becoming the repository for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. Some other members of Congress want to restart that mothballed project to accept radioactive material currently stored at power plants in 39 states.