Nevada, South Carolina spar over plutonium shipments

Published 01-30-2019

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RENO, Nev. (AP) - Nevada and South Carolina are fighting in court over where to store weapons-grade plutonium.

Each state is claiming in new court filings that theirs is the proper venue to argue over the U.S. Department of Energy's decision to truck the plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada without further environmental review.

A U.S. district judge in Reno is considering Nevada's request to block the shipment to a nuclear security site 70 miles (113 kilometers) from Las Vegas. South Carolina lawyers want the case moved to their state, where a federal judge previously issued an order that the plutonium be removed from a Savannah River site by Jan. 1, 2020.

Nevada argues the DOE has failed to adequately study the potential dangers of moving the material to an area that is subject to flash floods and earthquakes, and that the state's lands and groundwater may already be contaminated with radioactive materials.

The Energy Department defended its decision Jan. 17 at a hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Miranda Du in Reno. Its lawyers argue it doesn't have to disclose top-secret details of the shipment plans because of national security.

It has taken no position on the proper venue for the court proceedings.

The judge hasn't indicated when she might rule.

Lawyers for South Carolina say the previous order issued in December 2017 directing that the metric ton of plutonium be removed by the end of this year makes it clear the South Carolina court e retains jurisdiction.

"Nevada's interests fail to outweigh South Carolina's interest and substantial public interest in having the matter decided by the court already handling and most familiar with the facts and issues in the case," they said in a filing last week.

A substantial part of the government's efforts to remove the plutonium "have occurred and will occur in South Carolina," John Desmond wrote on behalf of South Carolina Attorney General Robert Cook.

Nevada's lawyers countered that the disposal site isn't located in South Carolina.

"The environmental impacts of the proposed action here will be almost entirely felt in Nevada," they said.

Experts testi

The judge hasn't indicated when she might rule.

Lawyers for South Carolina say the previous order issued in December 2017 directing that the metric ton of plutonium be removed by the end of this year makes it clear the South Carolina court e retains jurisdiction.

"Nevada's interests fail to outweigh South Carolina's interest and substantial public interest in having the matter decided by the court already handling and most familiar with the facts and issues in the case," they said in a filing last week.

A substantial part of the government's efforts to remove the plutonium "have occurred and will occur in South Carolina," John Desmond wrote on behalf of South Carolina Attorney General Robert Cook.

Nevada's lawyers countered that the disposal site isn't located in South Carolina.

"The environmental impacts of the proposed action here will be almost entirely felt in Nevada," they said.

Experts testifying on behalf of Nevada said the material likely would have to pass directly through Las Vegas on the way to the Nevada Nuclear National Security Site. They fear an accident could permanently harm an area home to 2.2 million residents and host to more than 40 million tourists a year.

The Energy Department wants to temporarily store the material at the Nevada site and the government's Pantex Plant in Texas, two facilities that already handle and process plutonium. The department says it would be sent by 2027 to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or another unnamed fa

"Nevada's interests fail to outweigh South Carolina's interest and substantial public interest in having the matter decided by the court already handling and most familiar with the facts and issues in the case," they said in a filing last week.

A substantial part of the government's efforts to remove the plutonium "have occurred and will occur in South Carolina," John Desmond wrote on behalf of South Carolina Attorney General Robert Cook.

Nevada's lawyers countered that the disposal site isn't located in South Carolina.

"The environmental impacts of the proposed action here will be almost entirely felt in Nevada," they said.

Experts testifying on behalf of Nevada said the material likely would have to pass directly through Las Vegas on the way to the Nevada Nuclear National Security Site. They fear an accident could permanently harm an area home to 2.2 million residents and host to more than 40 million tourists a year.

The Energy Department wants to temporarily store the material at the Nevada site and the government's Pantex Plant in Texas, two facilities that already handle and process plutonium. The department says it would be sent by 2027 to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico or another unnamed facility.

C. Wayne Howle, Nevada's chief deputy attorney general, said the injunction his state is seeking relates only to the proposal to ship plutonium to Nevada. It doesn't request South Carolina be ordered to retain the plutonium or ship it to any other specific site, he said.

"The only factual connection between the two cases is that the plutonium DOE is proposing to ship to Nevada is currently in South Carolina," he wrote last week. "Although the plutonium may come from South Carolina, that fact is irrelevant to Nevada's claims."

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