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Nevada, US Go to Court Over Plutonium

State wants 'secret' shipment to security site removed
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 19, 2019 3:50 PM CST
People walk into the south portal of Yucca Mountain during a congressional tour in 2015 of the proposed radioactive waste dump near Mercury, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

(Newser) – Nevada wants a federal judge to declare illegal what it calls the US government's "secret plutonium smuggling operation" and order the removal of weapons-grade material already shipped to a security site north of Las Vegas over the state's objections. The latest filing in a yearlong legal battle asks US District Judge Miranda Du in Reno to reject the government's motion to dismiss the state's lawsuit, the AP reports. Nevada is challenging the Energy Department's covert shipment of the highly radioactive material from South Carolina last year. The department insists the issue is moot because it already has promised that no more plutonium will be brought to Nevada. In Monday's filing, state Attorney General Aaron Ford wrote, "DOE wants Nevada and the court to stand by idly while it inflicts ecological damage with impunity."

The government says any potential harm to Nevada is speculative. The state says the government — citing national security — repeatedly has refused to provide classified details it needs to characterize the risks. It says the department violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to complete the necessary reviews before shipping the plutonium. Earlier this year, the judge declined to temporarily ban shipments to Nevada after the government disclosed it already had trucked in a half metric ton of plutonium. Du said the matter was moot because the plutonium was already there. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and declined to overturn that decision in August. The updated complaint says that "regardless of any mootness related to further shipments," the court has power to order removal of the plutonium.

(Read more plutonium stories.)

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