Despite some legal and financial hurdles, the U.S. Department of Energy remains "confident" it can get 1 metric ton of defense plutonium out of South Carolina by 2020, according to a newly filed court update.
"At this time DOE anticipates being able to ship the 1 metric ton of defense plutonium to other sites for interim staging prior to the deadline in the court order," the DOE's update, filed Dec. 14 in a U.S. district court, reads.
No amount breakdowns or timelines were provided.
That said, the repackaging and removal process – in compliance with safety regulations – is already well underway at the Savannah River Site, according to the update, which is signed by David Bowman.
Bowman is the DOE's deputy associate administrator for counterterrorism and counterproliferation.
"As the report describes below, the department has devoted significant resources and attention to complying with the court's injunctive order while at the same time ensuring that the removal of defense plutonium occurs as safely as possible in compliance with all applicable laws," the update reads.
In late December 2017, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs ordered the DOE to get 1 metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium out of South Carolina by 2020 at the latest. In October, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. Appeals Judge Robert B. King, in a 45-page opinion, described the injunction as "carefully" and "appropriately" crafted.
The removal effort involves sending the plutonium to Nevada and Texas for staging and then later to New Mexico for nuclear stockpile integration, according to an environmental assessment issued by the National Nuclear Security Administration.
That's a cross-country venture, which runs the bill up: "Shipping the material to an interim staging location increases costs to the government," the update reads.
The NNSA is a semiautonomous DOE agency in charge of the nation's nuclear outfit. The NNSA operates at SRS.
The plutonium would, more specifically, go to the Nevada National Security Site, the Pantex Plant and then Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to the NNSA's assessment.
The state of Nevada, though, is trying to prevent at least one part of that from happening.
On Nov. 30, Nevada – led by state Attorney General Adam Laxalt – filed a complaint against the DOE and requested a related preliminary injunction to enjoin any transfer of weapons-grade plutonium to NNSS.
The suit, still in its early stages, is mentioned in the DOE's Dec. 14 update. It's seemingly shrugged off.
Another status report will be filed in six months.
This December update was noticeably shorter in length compared to the previous one, which was filed mid-June and was six pages long.