Las Vegas Sun

June 17, 2019

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Sun editorial:

Secret, deceitful nuclear shipment into Nevada demands consequences

Heads need to roll at the U.S. Department of Energy. Right now.

Wednesday’s revelation that the department had secretly shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium into the state is a three-alarm cause for outrage for Nevadans.

Who’s responsible for putting Nevadans at extreme risk by sneaking the deadly material into our state? Who signed off on delivering the stuff to a site just 90 miles from Las Vegas, knowing that an accident or a terrorist attack could result in a health calamity and also do untold damage to the community’s economy?

Federal officials were well aware that Nevada didn’t want this horrible stuff coming into our state, so who defied our wishes? What’s more, the department revealed Wednesday that the shipment had already occurred when the state filed an injunction to block it in November, so who’s responsible for deceiving the court system?

This is government at its absolute worst — shadowy, deceptive and menacing.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said he was “beyond outraged” by the announcement and would work to protect the state from further shipments. Go get ’em, governor.

We’d also urge the state’s congressional delegates and the Nevada Legislature to join the fight.

To their credit, several leaders already have jumped in. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev., called the shipment “deceptive and dangerous,” and pledged full backing for Sisolak. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., similarly decried the shipment as “deceitful and unethical” and said “the lack of transparency from the Department of Energy is absolutely unacceptable.” Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., reacted immediately as well, saying: "If the Trump administration thinks that making such a reckless decision under the shroud of secrecy will allow them to move forward with Yucca Mountain, they are mistaken."  

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., announced that she was calling officials on the carpet.

“I’ll be demanding they explain why these agencies ignored a federal court and how this reckless decision was made,” she said in a statement. “The Trump administration will find that I’ll be shining a bright light on this, as well as any high-level effort to bring nuclear waste into our state by reviving Yucca Mountain. The voices of Nevadans must be heard, and I’ll be fighting for legislation that makes certain their voices are heard on this issue and this never happens behind the backs of Nevadans again.”

Cortez Masto’s line of questioning should include not only why the shipment was approved in the first place but why the DOE didn’t reveal it sooner. News reports indicated that the shipment had been classified, but that enough time had passed that it was no longer considered a matter of national security. But that hardly makes sense. Surely it didn’t take more than two months to get the material from South Carolina to Nevada and secure it, did it?

And again, why would the feds move it here, given the state’s well-documented concerns about its potential effects on groundwater or exposure in the event of a flash flood or earthquake?

Meanwhile, where are Republican leaders on this? Where is Rep. Mark Amodei’s outrage? Where are President Donald Trump’s Nevada friends and supporters? Considering the possibility that the decision for the shipment wasn’t made higher up than the DOE, they should be persuading him not to jeopardize our citizens and tourists through this underhanded activity. Given that this borders on a criminal and conspiratorial action, Trump’s backers in the state should be right in his ear.

Questions abound, and Nevadans demand answers.

We need to know what happened to transparency in the DOE, and who allowed it to be trampled on. We need to know who showed such gross disregard for keeping Nevadans safe and secure. We need to know who OK’d an action that left the Southern Nevada economy at extreme risk in the event of the release of radioactivity.

And then we need to know how soon those people will be fired or demoted.

Meanwhile, here’s a show of full and complete support for Sisolak and other state officials to do whatever is needed to stop the feds in their tracks from denying our state the right to protect its residents’ health and well-being.

Nevada won’t stand for this.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to include an excerpt from Titus’ statement.