By Scott Sonner
RENO — Two federal courts have expedited Nevada’s bid to immediately block shipments of weapons-grade plutonium to the state and potentially force the Trump administration to remove some of the highly radioactive material it already has trucked from South Carolina to a site near Las Vegas.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno agreed late Monday to speed consideration of Nevada’s latest bid for an emergency order preventing the Department of Energy from shipping plutonium to the state.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco also agreed to hear oral arguments on an expedited schedule in August on Nevada’s challenge of Du’s previous refusal to temporarily block such shipments.
The state also is asking the appellate court to order DOE to remove plutonium it secretly shipped last year from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Las Vegas.
DOE asked Du last week to dismiss Nevada’s lawsuit because the shipment already has occurred. Instead, she ordered DOE to respond to Nevada’s latest emergency motion by Thursday and Nevada’s lawyers to reply by Monday.
Over the objections of Nevada, DOE approved a plan last August to ship the material to Nevada for temporary storage before it is moved to another site New Mexico.
Nevada sued to stop the plan but DOE later disclosed it already had shipped 1,102 pounds (500 kilograms) of the plutonium to Nevada.
“The storage is already occurring and can’t be undone without transporting the plutonium out of the state, which is already planned to occur by 2027,” DOE lawyers said in their motion to dismiss Nevada’s lawsuit last week.
They said loading the plutonium back onto trucks for shipment elsewhere would recreate the same concerns Nevada has raised about the dangers of transporting the material.
Nevada challenged that contention in its filing Monday in the 9th Circuit.
“Leaving the plutonium in Nevada multiplies the harm and risk minute by minute,” the state said. “Removing the plutonium eliminates the source of the exposure and halts future injury.”
Nevada argues DOE should have been forced to draft a full environmental impact statement before shipping the plutonium from South Carolina. It says DOE is attempting to assert “near limitless power to turn Nevada into the nation’s nuclear parking lot and dumping ground.”
DOE said the previous shipment had to be kept secret for national security reasons.
Nevada also said in its filing Monday that DOE is continuing its “pattern of hiding critical safety and environmental information from Nevada and delaying its disclosure to the public.”