COMMENTARY: Nevada officials know of DOE’s plutonium shipments

As a former governor, I understand above all else that Gov. Steve Sisolak’s job is to protect the interests of his state and the safety and sovereignty of its people. I was never known for being shy when I felt that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., trampled on Texas — or any state, for that matter.

However, it is one thing to defend your state from abuse or wrongdoing by the federal government, and it is another to launch attacks not based in reality but political grandstanding.

There has been an assault waged in the media on the Trump administration and, most importantly, against the men and women of the Department of Energy. The headlines read like a Hollywood movie: “DOE Secretly Shipped Plutonium to Nevada,” and “Trump Administration Secretly Shipped Radioactive Plutonium to Nevada Despite State’s Opposition.” The truth is, Nevada officials were not blindsided at all.

Gov. Sisolak and others continue to spread the false narrative that this shipment was done in secret. The opposite is true. My department was as transparent about this movement as operational security would permit. Here are the facts.

In December 2017, the U.S. District Court in South Carolina ordered the DOE to remove no less than 1 metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from the state within two years. In the spring of 2018, DOE leadership began intentionally and proactively engaging in good faith with senior leadership within Nevada on this issue. In August, the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration completed an analysis, in compliance with the court order, identifying where the material would be temporarily stored: the Pantex Plant in Texas, Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico and the Nevada National Security Site.

After the analysis was completed, notifications were made and briefings were offered to state, local and congressional stakeholders, providing information specific to this material and its strategic use. These notifications included Nevada’s governor and congressional delegation, in addition to state, county and local officials. Each of these officials was made aware by the department of its intent to ship and temporarily store materials at the Nevada National Security Site. Gov. Sisolak — then chair of the Clark County Commission — was notified personally.

The material that was sent to be temporarily stored in Nevada has inaccurately been described as “waste.” This material is not nuclear waste, will not be permanently stored in Nevada and is handled with the highest standards for safety and security. The DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration is charged with maintaining and enhancing the safety, security and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. The NNSA routinely ships this type of material between its sites (including Nevada) as part of its national security missions and has done so safely and securely for decades.

The Nevada National Security Site is supported by the nearly 3,000 Nevadans who play an incredibly important role in ensuring our missions are executed. Since becoming secretary of energy, I have visited the site on multiple occasions to see firsthand what these men and women do every day. They support our nuclear deterrence mission with research and development, prevent the proliferation of nuclear material, and enhance our capability to counter terrorism around the globe.

The Nevada National Security Site also plays a vital role economically in the state, representing a nearly $1 billion annual economic impact. These should be points of pride and areas of agreement, not points to be used in an effort to score cheap political points based on misinformation and fear.

I have invited both Gov. Sisolak and the state’s congressional delegation to the Nevada National Security Site for a briefing and tour to give them a better understanding of the important work done there. The Department of Energy has had a longstanding partnership with the state of Nevada for nearly 70 years, and I am committed to ensuring that partnership endures.

Last week, President Donald Trump gathered the nation’s governors at the White House. As governor of Texas, I welcomed opportunities like this one to engage with both my counterparts from across the country and the administration in Washington. As a Cabinet member, I find the dialogue with governors equally as useful, especially those with Department of Energy interests in their states.

The DOE’s vast mission transcends politics, and I take every opportunity I can to engage with officials on matters important to the Department, no matter what side of the aisle they are on. Just last week, I hosted Gov. Gavin Newsom at the Department of Energy to discuss the agency’s work in California. Our conversation was informative and productive, and I look forward to a strong working relationship with the governor.

I would have welcomed the same opportunity to sit down with Gov. Sisolak, and I remain hopeful that we can work together in the months and years to come.

Rick Perry is the U.S. secretary of energy.

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