Las Vegas Review-Journal: Cortez Masto wins fight over plutonium removal from Nevada
By Gary Martin
April 30, 2019
WASHINGTON — Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said Tuesday she struck a deal with Energy Secretary Rick Perry to remove a half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from the state starting in 2021, with assurances that no future shipments will come from South Carolina.
Cortez Masto agreed to drop her hold on presidential nominees for the Department of Energy and also agreed to a tour of the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas where the plutonium is currently being stored.
“It’s a victory for Nevada. It’s good news for Nevada,” Cortez Masto told the Review-Journal.
The Energy Department last year was ordered by a federal court in South Carolina to move one metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium out of the Savannah River Site.
A half-ton was shipped to the Nevada security site as the state was preparing a federal court filing seeking an injunction to stop the shipment. The Energy Department is required to move an additional five metric tons out of South Carolina in future years.
The National Nuclear Security Administration acknowledged the shipment of plutonium in a court filing in Reno, as a federal judge in January was deliberating on Nevada’s lawsuit to stop the shipment. The agency said the shipment occurred before Nevada filed its lawsuit in November 2018.
Gov. Steve Sisolak and the state’s congressional delegation were outraged by the secret shipment. The Energy Department said the state was notified in August 2018 that the shipment was coming.
Cortez Masto placed a hold on President Donald Trump’s nominees for the Department of Energy, delaying the process on confirmations while she and Perry held discussions.
Under their agreement, the Department of Energy will begin removing the plutonium in 2021. Cortez Masto said she also won assurances that none of the remaining plutonium from South Carolina would be shipped to the state.
Perry, who has argued that the DAF facility is safe, despite a Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report that cited seismic concerns and other potential problems, will tour the installation with Cortez Masto, Sen. Jacky Rosen and National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Lisa Gordon-Hagerty.
That tour is expected to occur in May.
Cortez Masto said she wanted to tour the facility to “ensure that it is safely stored until it is moved out of Nevada.”
“That’s why I want to see it for myself,” she said.
Perry agreed to the timetable and assurance of new future shipments in a letter to the senator during the Senate’s two-week recess in April.
Cortez Masto said the agreements came from cordial conversations with the Energy secretary, who also is seeking to revive the licensing process to open Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear waste repository, which has drawn sharp political opposition by the state.
“We’ve got to be vigilant,” Cortez Masto said of the state’s efforts in opposition to nuclear waste storage. “We are strong. We are united, it crosses party lines.”
The Nevada Independent: Cortez Masto, DOE reach deal to remove secretly-shipped plutonium from Nevada beginning in 2021
By Humberto Sanchez
April 30, 2019
Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto brokered a deal with the Department of Energy to begin removing a half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from the Nevada National Security Site by 2021 and received assurances from DOE not to ship any more plutonium to the state.
The time between now and 2021 will allow the site in New Mexico, where the plutonium will be shipped to be prepared, according to Cortez Masto’s office. The agreement was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Cortez Masto had been working with DOE to get an agreement in writing since shortly after the agency disclosed in January that it secretly shipped the plutonium to the site sometime last year.
The move may temporarily defuse tension between DOE and Nevada. Gov. Steve Sisolak and Democrats in the delegation have been adamant that the plutonium was sent with no prior warning or courtesy to state officials despite negotiations, and subsequently a lawsuit, to prevent any plutonium shipments. DOE has said otherwise.
Sisolak praised Cortez Masto and the accord.
“Nevada is lucky to have a relentless fighter like @SenCortezMasto on our side,” the governor wrote on Twitter. “I’m so grateful for her leadership and am committed to working w/ our entire federal delegation to ensure @SecretaryPerry keeps his word to Nevadans.”
Perry took a respectful tone in the letter, dated April 24, outlining the agreement, which included a pledge from the DOE secretary to remove all of the plutonium by 2026.
“It is my intention to continue to our dialogue to find opportunities and work to overcome challenges as they arise,” Perry wrote.
In a statement announcing the accord, Cortez Masto took a firmer line.
“While I thank Secretary Perry for working with me on this issue, make no mistake that we will have additional fights ahead of us,” she said.
One of those fights is the push to revive a project to build a national nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain. President Donald Trump has pushed for Congress to provide funding for the project, which has not received federal dollars since fiscal year 2012 due to pressure from the Nevada delegation.
Cortez Masto also said that she has lifted her “hold” on DOE nominees. In March, she had pledged to delay those nominations until she got an agreement in writing from Perry regarding the plutonium.
The Nevada Democrat also said she is scheduled, next month, to visit the NNSS facility where the plutonium is stored.
“I want to see it for myself that, in the short time it’s going to be there, that it’s safe,” Cortez Masto said in a brief interview in the U.S. Capitol, adding that there has been recent seismic activity in the area that concerns her.
Cortez Masto was invited to tour the site by DOE Secretary Rick Perry, according to a letter
Along with Cortez Masto and Perry, Sen. Jacky Rosen and National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who oversees the NNSS, will also attend the facility tour.
Perry also agreed to not ship any more plutonium to Nevada.
DOE’s decision to temporarily store plutonium in Nevada was the result of the agency’s failure to meet a deadline to complete construction on a South Carolina facility that is meant to repurpose excess plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors. A federal judge in May ordered that one metric ton of plutonium be removed from the site by 2019.
Cortez Masto and other Nevada Democrats were concerned that DOE would send the other half ton to the NNSS to comply with that lawsuit.
Reno Gazette Journal: Cortez Masto wins fight to remove plutonium secretly shipped to Southern Nevada test site
By James DeHaven
April 30, 2019
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., has declared victory in the weekslong fight to remove plutonium secretly shipped to Nevada late last year.
Cortez Masto last month said she was nearing a deal to have the U.S. Department of Energy take back a half-ton of radioactive bomb-making material covertly sent to the Nevada National Security Site.
On Tuesday, she confirmed that agreement will see the federal agency start removing the plutonium in 2021. In exchange, Cortez Masto has agreed to lift her blockade on departmental appointees nominated by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
The Energy Department is expected to have the plutonium completely removed by 2026, according to a statement from Cortez Masto’s office. Future plutonium shipments destined for the Silver State will be diverted to the the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.
Nevada’s senior senator credited Gov. Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron Ford and fellow U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen for helping seal the deal.
“Nevadans didn’t create this waste and we shouldn’t be on the hook for storing it in our state against our will,” Masto said. “While I thank Secretary Perry for working with me on this issue, make no mistake that we will have additional fights ahead of us.
“I’ll continue to do all I can to hold the Department of Energy accountable, and ensure we fight against any attempt to ship nuclear waste to our state.”
Cortez Masto and Rosen have agreed to join Perry a May tour of the Southern Nevada site where the plutonium is now being stored.
News of the agreement, which was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, arrived roughly five months after the material arrived from South Carolina’s Savannah River nuclear reservation site. Cortez Masto and other state leaders say they were given no notice of the delivery, which only came to light because the Energy Department decided to declassify it in court documents filed before a federal judge in Reno.
Cortez Masto’s office did not immediately provide a written copy of the agreement reached between her and Perry.
Perry’s office did not return a request for comment on the agreement.
Las Vegas Sun: DOE will ship plutonium out of Nevada beginning in 2021
By John Sadler
April 30, 2019
CARSON CITY — The clash between members of Nevada’s congressional delegation and the Department of Energy appears to be at an end — or at least the beginning to an end.
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., today announced an agreement with Energy Secretary Rick Perry that a half metric ton of plutonium secretly shipped into the state last year will be removed by 2026, with the process beginning in 2021.
Earlier this year, the Department of Energy revealed it had moved the weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to a government site north of Las Vegas. While Nevada had asked a court to temporarily block the shipment, the Energy Department moved the waste before an injunction could be issued.
“While I thank Secretary Perry for working with me on this issue, make no mistake that we will have additional fights ahead of us,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.
“I’ll continue to do all I can to hold the Department of Energy accountable and ensure we fight against any attempt to ship nuclear waste to our state,” she said.
Cortez Masto had been holding up the confirmation of presidential nominees to the Department of Energy over the issue but has agreed to release all holds on nominees.
Cortez Masto said she worked with Gov. Steve Sisolak, state Attorney General Aaron Ford, U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., and Nevada’s federal delegation to secure the agreement.
The pact calls for any further plutonium shipments from South Carolina will go to a waste isolation plant in New Mexico. The plant, located in a salt bed near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is used for the storage of nuclear-contaminated waste.
Sisolak responded to the agreement with a tweet in which he said he would continue to make sure Perry kept his promise.