The removal of secretly shipped plutonium stored at the Nevada National Security site was completed early.

WASHINGTON — A half-ton of weapons-grade plutonium secretly shipped to Nevada was removed four years earlier under a federal court order and agreement reached by U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and the former Secretary of State. Rick Perry Energy, officials said Friday.

Cortez Masto, D-Nev., first announced the removal of the plutonium, stored at the Nevada National Security site north of Las Vegas.

She was briefed by the National Nuclear Security Administration on Friday evening.

National Nuclear Security Administrator Jill Hruby notified Cortez Masto by phone of the completion of the withdrawal, according to the senator’s office.

Attempts to contact the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration for comment were not immediately returned.

The NNSA shipped plutonium from the Savannah River site in South Carolina to Nevada in 2019 under a federal court order.

Nevada officials, despite being told it would happen, were furious when efforts to stop the transfer through federal courts became moot after the Department of Energy revealed that the plutonium had already been shipped into the state.

Four years ahead of schedule

“When I heard that the Trump administration secretly shipped weapons-grade plutonium to our state, I acted immediately to ensure it was removed,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Cortez Masto also obtained a written commitment from Perry not to send any more plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada.

“I am proud to report that the move was completed four years ahead of schedule,” Cortez Masto said.

A federal judge has ordered the Department of Energy to remove weapons-grade plutonium from the Savannah River site in South Carolina after the closure of a facility that turns radioactive materials into fuel for nuclear power plants.

Some of the material was sent to the Nevada facility, and some to the Pantex factory in Texas until the pits to accommodate the material at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico are completed, according to the NNSA.

The Nevada material has now been shipped to Los Alamos, a congressional aide confirmed.

Secret shipment from South Carolina sparks anger

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, was furious that the Energy Department shipped the plutonium to Nevada when the state in May 2019 notified the federal government of its intention to seek an injunction to prevent the transfer.

Sandoval ordered then-state Attorney General Adam Laxalt to file a lawsuit in federal court in Reno to block the shipment.

But the lawsuit was dismissed after Energy Department attorneys in 2020 revealed in court papers that the shipment had already taken place, rendering the state’s lawsuit moot.

Governor Steve Sisolak and State Attorney General Aaron Ford, both Democrats, filed another lawsuit and won a decision that would force the federal government to eventually remove the plutonium.

Nevada’s congressional delegation backed efforts to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium, despite assurances from federal officials that material stored at the NNSS north of Las Vegas was a secure site and posed little danger to the environment and neighboring communities.

But the danger of exposure to the materials prompted the federal judge to order that the plutonium be moved from South Carolina.

“Beyond Outrage”

The covert plutonium shipment, due to federal national security concerns, angered Nevada officials from both major political parties who accused Perry and the Energy Department of lying to the state about his intent.

Sisolak called it “beyond outrage,” and Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., asked Energy Department officials about the shipments.

U.S. Representative Dina Titus, D-Nev., the state’s top elected expert on Nevada’s nuclear history, called the Energy Department’s action reckless and asked for relief through withdrawal. US Representatives Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, whose district includes the NNSS, were also angered by shipping the material along highways and public roads.

U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., also questioned federal officials about secret shipments of radioactive materials into the state.

The shipment heightened tensions between Nevada and the Trump administration, which was also seeking to open Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear waste repository, just 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

Contact Gary Martin at [email protected] Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.