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The Latest: Nevada looking at legal options for plutonium

January 31, 2019
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FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2013 file photo, radioactive waste sealed in large stainless steel canisters is stored under five feet of concrete in a storage building at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C. Nevada and South Carolina are jostling for a home-field advantage of sorts in a federal court battle that could result in a metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium being stored 70 miles from Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton, File)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Latest on a federal court battle over the shipment of plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada (all times local):

5:20 p.m.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says the state is exploring options for weapons-grade plutonium that the federal government secretly shipped to a site north of Las Vegas.

Nevada had been asking a court to block the planned shipments and doubled down on that request Wednesday after the government revealed that it had already sent some of the radioactive material months ago.

Sisolak said at a news conference in Carson City late Wednesday that the state is pursuing “any and all legal remedies,” including contempt of court orders against the federal government and anyone else involved.

He described the months-long negotiations with energy department officials over the plutonium shipped from South Carolina as a “total sham” and says they put Nevada residents at risk.

The Energy Department says the timing and the route the plutonium took to Nevada is classified information.

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3:30 p.m.

Energy department lawyers say no more shipments of weapons-grade plutonium are planned from South Carolina to Nevada after the federal agency revealed hours earlier that radioactive material was trucked to a site near Las Vegas months ago.

Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing late Wednesday that Nevada’s lawsuit aimed at blocking the shipments is now moot.

But state lawyers say their request to block the plutonium is more critical than ever after the energy department misled them about the shipments.

They say the government has created the “palpable suspicion” that more shipments are coming to Nevada.

The energy department approved shipping a metric ton of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina by 2020. Its lawyers now say any additional material moved out of South Carolina will go elsewhere.

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2:25 p.m.

Nevada’s congressional delegation is joining Gov. Steve Sisolak in expressing outrage over the U.S. Energy Department’s new disclosure that it has secretly shipped a half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium to a site north of Las Vegas.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto says she’s demanding that department officials come to her office on Thursday to explain how such a “reckless” decision was made.

Sen. Jacky Rosen called the move “deceitful and unethical.”

The Democratic senators, along with Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, are vowing to work with Sisolak, also a Democrat, to do whatever they can to keep any more plutonium from being shipped from South Carolina to Nevada.

The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno on Wednesday that the government had already trucked the radioactive material to the site north of Las Vegas when Nevada filed a request for an injunction to block the move in November.

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1:15 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Energy has disclosed that it already shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium to a nuclear security site in Nevada despite the state’s protests.

The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno on Wednesday that the government had already trucked the radioactive material to the site north of Las Vegas when Nevada filed a request for an injunction to block the move in November.

Department lawyers said in a nine-page filing that the previously classified information about the shipment from South Carolina can be disclosed now because enough time has passed to protect national security.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak says he’s “beyond outraged.” He says he’s working with Nevada’s congressional delegation to fight back against the U.S. government’s “reckless disregard” for the safety of Nevadans.

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10:45 a.m.

Nevada and South Carolina are fighting in court over where to store weapons-grade plutonium.

Each state is claiming in new court filings that theirs is the proper venue to argue over the U.S. Department of Energy’s decision to truck the plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada without further environmental review.

A U.S. district judge in Reno is considering Nevada’s request to block the shipment to a nuclear security site 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Las Vegas. South Carolina lawyers want the case moved to their state, where a federal judge previously issued an order that the plutonium be removed from a Savannah River site by Jan. 1, 2020.

Nevada argues the DOE has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes, and that the state’s lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.

The Energy Department defended its decision Jan. 17 at a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du in Reno. Its lawyers argue it doesn’t have to disclose top-secret details of the shipment plans because of national security.

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