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Nevada goes back to court to block plutonium shipments

Updated February 7, 2019 - 8:46 pm

CARSON CITY — Nevada has gone to court again to block shipments of highly radioactive plutonium into the state pending its appeal of an earlier court ruling that denied a similar request.

The latest motion, filed in the same court that issued the previous denial, is “another step in our aggressive, multifaceted legal strategy to prevent Nevada from becoming a parking lot for nuclear weapons and waste,” Attorney General Aaron Ford said in a statement.

The state was in court last month seeking an injunction to prevent the Department of Energy from shipping weapons-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas pending the outcome of a lawsuit to permanently block shipments. The state is concerned that an accident in handling the material could put millions of Las Vegas residents and visitors at risk of exposure to radiation.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno denied the city’s request Jan. 30. The same day, DOE officials disclosed in court that a half metric ton of the material was shipped from South Carolina to Nevada in November. The agency said it kept the shipment secret for reasons of national security.

The DOE faces a deadline imposed by another federal court to remove the material from South Carolina by the end of this year and contends it gave adequate notice of plans for temporary storage in Nevada last summer.

After the disclosure, the state returned to court seeking a restraining order on shipments, but the judge again denied it, citing her earlier ruling. The state is appealing to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The DOE has said it does not plan any more shipments, but Ford said such assurances “aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”

The state’s filing Thursday said that without an interim order blocking shipments, the DOE could “surreptitiously ship additional plutonium to Nevada” before the 9th Circuit weighs in.

Gov. Steve Sisolak added that the state would continue to “aggressively pursue every legal tool available to fight back against the Department of Energy’s disregard for the State of Nevada’s sovereignty.”

A DOE spokeswoman declined a request for comment Thursday from The Associated Press.

Contact Bill Dentzer at bdentzer@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-0661. Follow @DentzerNews on Twitter.

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