Nevada has settled a lengthy battle over some of the nuclear waste recently shipped to the Silver State by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The state’s Division of Environmental Protection, or NDEP, on Thursday announced the agreement will cover 10 shipments of radioactive materials quietly delivered to the federally owned Nevada National Security Site from 2013 to 2018.
Those deliveries — which are unrelated to secret shipments of weapons-grade plutonium the Energy Department took to the same site in 2018 — came from the department’s nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where federal officials have spent nearly 30 years and some $4.5 billion to clean up thousands of tons of hazardous waste.
In both instances, Nevada leaders have accused federal officials of treating the state as a nuclear dumping ground, especially once it was revealed that the practice continued even after U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., struck a deal with the Trump administration to stop it.
The state first sued over the plutonium shipments in December 2018, arguing in court filings that transporting the highly toxic material risked residents’ health and violated federal environmental law.
That suit went on to claim the Energy Department ignored at least five other potential landing spots for the plutonium in Texas, Tennessee and New Mexico.
Thursday’s agreement comes after NDEP concluded a monthslong probe into a separate series of “potential waste disposal violations” first self-reported by the Energy Department in July 2019.
Energy Department officials at the time acknowledged multiple shipments of low-level radioactive material may have been mislabeled ahead of their delivery to the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas.
State officials said this week’s settlement will, among other things, require federal authorities to improve labeling and tracking of future shipments sent to the state.
“As part of our mission, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is committed to ensuring the health, safety, and wellbeing of all Nevadans, and protecting our state’s natural resources,” NDEP Administrator Greg Lovato said in a statement. “Although DOE’s unapproved waste disposal was an unfortunate misstep, we are thankful that this experience has helped lead the way to significant improvements that will further protect public health and the natural environment for generations to come.
“I thank all of the state and federal officials for their collaborative efforts to enhance DOE’s waste management program, which will continue to be closely monitored by NDEP.”
Federal officials have previously said they don’t plan any additional plutonium shipments to the site formerly known as the Nevada Proving Grounds, which hosted more than 100 above-ground nuclear tests during the 1950s.
“Downwinders” — those sickened and killed by fallout from that decade of atomic tests — have helped make opposition to future nuclear testing and waste storage a reliably bipartisan issue in the Silver State.
Nevada politicians of all stripes have successfully stalled repeated federal efforts to store spent plutonium rods in concrete-encased bore holes at Yucca Mountain, located just west of the former bomb testing site.
James DeHaven is the politics reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal. He covers campaigns, the Nevada Legislature and everything in between. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com right here.