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Feds secretly ship plutonium to Nevada to meet South Carolina court order

January 31st, 2019
A truck outside of Los Alamos.

Enlarge / A truck rolls out of one of the most heavily guarded facilities, the Plutonium Facility, June 14, 1999, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM. (credit: Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

On Wednesday, a lawyer for the Department of Energy (DOE) filed a notice in a federal lawsuit saying that the department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) had secretly shipped half a metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to a national security site in Nevada without the latter state's knowledge.

The new information surprised and angered many Nevada politicians because it was disclosed as part of a federal lawsuit that Nevada brought against the US government in November, seeking an injunction to prevent the NNSA from shipping the plutonium to the Silver State. The federal government announced its intentions to move the plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada in the summer, and on November 30, lawyers for the state asked the district court to stop the plans.

On Wednesday, DOE lawyer Bruce Diamond wrote (PDF) that the plutonium had already been moved, rendering Nevada's request for injunction moot. "In order to provide security for its shipments of these kinds of materials, DOE normally will not release information about the status of the shipment(s) until sometime after the shipping 'campaign' is concluded," Diamond wrote.

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