Rick Perry: Plutonium sent from SRS to Nevada will again be relocated by end of 2026

May 2, 2019

One half-metric ton of defense plutonium quietly sent from the Savannah River Site to the Nevada National Security Site will be removed from Nevada by the end of 2026, according to an April 24 letter penned by U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

The U.S. Department of Energy is promising, per the letter, to begin relocation efforts in 2021.

Perry, writing to U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, said the DOE’s commitment is spurred by “concerns” expressed by the state’s congressional delegation.

The DOE – namely its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration – shipped the half-metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium to NNSS prior to November 2018, according to NNSA General Counsel Bruce Diamond. That timeline is acknowledged in Perry’s letter.

The clandestine shipment, publicly revealed in federal court documents, roiled Cortez Masto, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and their fellow lawmakers.

The plutonium was moved to NNSS to satisfy in part a December 2017 court order, which requires the DOE to get 1 metric ton of weapons-usable plutonium out of South Carolina by 2020. Perry’s letter acknowledges the court order, too.

A July 2018 NNSA environmental study laid out the plans to reposition that 1 metric ton: It would be sent to Texas, to the Pantex Plant, or Nevada, to NNSS, for staging and would then – eventually – be sent on to Los Alamos National Laboratory for plutonium pit production.

Plutonium pits are nuclear weapon cores.

In his letter to Cortez Masto, Perry described the half-metric ton as “not nuclear waste.”

In a Nov. 20, 2018 letter to Nevada leaders, NNSA Chief of Staff William “Ike” White described the plutonium as “vital” for “national security missions,” among other things.

Cortez Masto on Tuesday hailed the DOE’s written commitment as a win.

“Nevadans didn’t create this waste, and we shouldn’t be on the hook for storing it in our state against our will,” the senator said in prepared remarks.

“I’ll continue to do all I can to hold the Department of Energy accountable,” she continued, “and ensure we fight against any attempt to ship nuclear waste to our state.”

The Aiken Standard about two weeks ago reported Pantex was ramping up a new plutonium staging mission tied to the NNSA’s grander removal campaign.

Perry, NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty and Cortez Masto will together tour NNSS on May 10, according to the letter.