DOE to remove plutonium by 2026; Cortez Masto thanks Perry, lifts holds on nominees

used to be test site still has craters
Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
used to be test site still has craters
Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, U.S Senator Catherine Cortez Masto announced she would lift her hold on all Department of Energy nominees after reaching an agreement to remove a half ton of plutonium from Nevada with Energy Secretary Rick Perry who she previously said acted “in bad faith” and says “one thing and does another.”

“So that tells me that they were willing to basically lie to the state of Nevada. That usually starts at the very top and I blame Secretary Perry. I’ve had interactions with him, they have not been good. He tells me one thing and does another,” Cortez Masto said in February.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, she said this: “Today I’ve released my holds on all pending Department of Energy nominees following an agreement with the Department of Energy that the Department will commence the removal of the weapons-grade plutonium that was secretly shipped to Nevada beginning in 2021.”

Cortez Masto had revealed the agreement with the DOE to the Review-Journal earlier in the day. “It’s a victory for Nevada,” Cortez Masto told the R-J.

According to a statement from Cortez Masto’s office, the senator specifically asked Perry to provide a written agreement in order to hold the Department of Energy accountable.

“The state of Nevada now has a written agreement from the head of DOE assuring that the Department will begin the process of removing the plutonium in 2021,” said Monica Garcia, the deputy communication director for Cortez Masto’s office, adding that they originally planned to remove the shipment after 2026.

But while the process to remove the half metric ton shipment of plutonium is set to begin 2021 it won’t conclude until 2026, according to a press release from Cortez Masto’s office.

After the U.S Department of Energy disclosed in January that sometime late last year it shipped half a metric ton of weapon-grade plutonium to the Nevada National Security Site (more commonly known as the test site) without the state’s knowledge, Gov. Steve Sisolak said he was “beyond outraged.”

The Nevada congressional delegation unanimously condemned the DOE and other involved parties for withholding information about the shipments from state officials. Cortez Masto said in January that the decision by the DOE and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) “completely disregards the health and safety of Nevadans.” She added at the time that DOE Secretary Rick Perry and the agencies under his direction acted “in bad faith by totally ignoring the will of” former Gov. Brian Sandoval.

In February, Cortez Masto told the Current she felt Energy Secretary Rick Perry and the Department of Energy “breached the trust that we had built up over the years with the administrator and the folks that are out at the test site and that manage the test site.”

Cortez Masto thanked Perry for working with her on the issue in her statement Tuesday, but said, “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.”

The agreement disclosed Tuesday calls for all future waste shipped out of South Carolina to go directly to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

“Nevadans didn’t create this waste and we shouldn’t be on the hook for storing it in our state against our will,” said Cortez Masto.

Updated with an additional statement from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office

Jeniffer Solis
Reporter | Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies. While at UNLV she was a senior staff writer for the student newspaper, the UNLV Scarlet and Gray Free Press, and a news reporter for KUNV 91.5 FM, covering everything from the Route 91 shooting to UNLV housing. She has also contributed to the UNLV News Center and worked as a production engineer for several KUNV broadcasts before joining the Nevada Current. She’s an Aries.

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