Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation expressed indignation last week upon learning that the Department of Energy may have mistakenly sent potentially dangerous nuclear material to the state in shipments that were supposed to consist of low-level waste. The foul-up certainly reeks of bureaucratic ineptitude, but state officials might want to more widely direct their vitriol.
On July 3, the DOE informed Nevada officials that the shipments — from a facility in Tennessee to the Nevada National Security Site — had gone on for more than five years ending in December. Reactive material that could trigger an explosion if mixed with other substances was apparently included among the low-level waste shipments to the former test site, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
Gov. Steve Sisolak learned of the matter in a phone call with Energy Department officials. At this point, his office said the department had not yet confirmed the reactive material had actually been shipped.
But in a statement, the DOE admitted the potential error, saying, “The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the NNSS.” In addition, the agency said Energy Secretary Rick Perry has directed bureaucrats to conduct an internal investigation to determine the cause of the mistake and to ensure it can’t happen again.
The response from state politicians was furious and predictable.
Gov. Sisolak and Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen fired off a missive calling the shipments “egregious acts” and “unconscionable.” Rep. Dina Titus fumed that, “The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty.” Rep. Steven Horsford was less subtle, saying “Secretary Perry must resign immediately.”
The blunder should indeed be of concern. But singling out Mr. Perry seems an exercise of political convenience by those above, all Democrats. After all, it was the Trump administration’s DOE — under Mr. Perry — that discovered the error and ended the shipments. Would it be impertinent to point out that this “egregious” and “unconscionable” mistake began under President Barack Obama’s Department of Energy and continued for almost four years during his administration?
Instead of demonizing Mr. Perry in an effort to score political points over Yucca Mountain, Nevada’s congressional delegation should seek a seat at the table when the DOE revises the policies that facilitated its apparent bungling. But if they prefer to point fingers, they might want to speak with Steven Chu and Ernest Moniz, who both served under the previous president.