State of Nevada Strikes Settlement With Department of Energy Over Plutonium Shipments

June 26, 2020

Carson City, NV – Today, Governor Steve Sisolak, Attorney General Aaron D. Ford, and Nevada’s federal delegation announced a finalized settlement agreement between the State of Nevada and the Department of Energy (DOE) regarding their shipment of weapons-grade plutonium. The settlement marks a significant victory in Nevada’s fight to prevent the DOE from making Nevada its plutonium destination of choice.

In August 2018, the DOE announced its plan to ship up to one metric ton of plutonium to Nevada for indefinite storage. The DOE’s plan failed to adequately address the environmental impacts and risks involved. The Offices of the Governor and the Attorney General took immediate action to prevent these shipments from entering Nevada, and the Office of the Attorney General subsequently filed suit on behalf of the State. Through the filing of this lawsuit, the State uncovered that the DOE had secretly shipped one-half of the proposed plutonium shipments to the State while seemingly engaged in good faith discussions with the State’s leaders.

Today, the State of Nevada and the DOE entered into a settlement agreement to resolve this litigation and begin to rebuild the trust crucial to maintaining the long-standing relationship between the DOE and the State.

“I am pleased to see the results of the hard work and persistence on behalf of Nevadans from the Attorney General’s Office and our federal delegation to reach this settlement agreement,” said Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. “This settlement is a significant victory in our State’s efforts to keep the weapons grade material out of our State."

“This resolution marks a significant commitment from the Department of Energy to remove the plutonium that was sent into our State without notice or consent,” said Attorney General Aaron D. Ford. “Every Nevadan should rest assured that their health and safety continues to be our first priority. The governor, our federal delegation and my office have worked tirelessly to have this dangerous, weapons-grade material removed from our State. While I’m hopeful that this agreement is the basis for a stronger and more collaborative relationship with the Department of Energy, my office stands ready to protect the interest of Nevadans. I thank Secretary Brouillette for his commitment to Nevadans and look forward to seeing the safe removal of the plutonium begin next year.”

In April 2019, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto received a commitment to remove the plutonium from then-Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. Senator Cortez Masto further successfully requested Secretary Brouillette to stand by those commitments when questioning him at his confirmation hearing. The commitments obtained by Senator Cortez Masto provided the framework for the settlement agreement that the State enters into with the DOE today.

“I’m pleased that the Department of Energy and the State of Nevada have reached a settlement to remove the weapons-grade plutonium that was secretly shipped to Nevada and to prevent any future shipments from South Carolina,” said Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. “I’d like to thank Attorney General Ford and Governor Sisolak for keeping up this fight to hold the administration accountable.”

Congresswoman Titus has fought to remove the plutonium from Nevada and prevent additional shipments.

"The Trump Administration attempted to mislead the courts and secretly dump radioactive plutonium in our backyard. Nevadans have Governor Sisolak, Attorney General Ford, and our Congressional delegation to thank for not letting the Department of Energy get away with it,” said Congresswoman Titus. “Time and again, the Trump Administration has treated our state as a trash can for the nation's waste. Today's announcement is a major step toward reversing the damage inflicted upon our state and protecting the health and safety of Nevadans."

As part of this settlement agreement, the DOE will begin removing the one-half metric ton of plutonium currently in the State next year. The DOE will have this material completely removed from the State by no later than the end of calendar year 2026. The DOE also agrees that it will not ship the additional one-half metric ton of plutonium that it originally had planned to Nevada.

Most importantly, the agreement applies to the remaining weapons grade plutonium stored at the DOE Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The DOE failed to convert this surplus weapons plutonium into reactor fuel to render it unsuitable for warheads, as part of a nuclear arms control agreement between the United States and Russia. The DOE may be required remove the remaining plutonium – more than ten metric tons – in the next 18 months.

By this agreement, the DOE has stated its intention to meet any future obligations without sending additional surplus plutonium to this State. The DOE agrees to notify the Attorney General Ford if this “intention” changes within 30 days. This will give the AG Ford time to file suit if necessary to protect the State’s residents and environment.