Nevada's bid to prevent defense plutonium from being shipped into the state from South Carolina was recently dismissed by a federal appeals court, and a related argument to remove a plutonium cache there was rejected, as well.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday dismissed Nevada's appeal because the material in question, sent from the Savannah River Site to the Nevada National Security Site, was there prior to the state's original lawsuit. The appeals court sided with a lower court's ruling on the matter.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford on Twitter on Wednesday said he and others would continue to "aggressively" litigate.
Nevada sued the U.S. Department of Energy and its semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration on Nov. 30, 2018, hoping to block the federal government from moving plutonium to the state, which has also battled Yucca Mountain, a mothballed nuclear-waste repository.
Months later, in the midst of the legal back-and-forth, the NNSA announced it had relocated a half-metric ton of plutonium to Nevada – before November 2018 and before the lawsuit.
"Because the government has completed the shipments, we dismiss this appeal as moot," the three-judge panel said in its Tuesday order. Any alleged damage Nevada was trying to preempt is already done, the court commented.
"The remedy Nevada sought … is no longer available," the six-page order continues.
The half-metric ton of plutonium now staged in Nevada was quietly moved out of the Savannah River Site, south of Aiken and northwest of Charleston, to partially satisfy a federal court order.
The Energy Department was required to get a total 1 metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium out of the Palmetto State by January 2020. That effort was recently completed, according to the NNSA, with the remaining half most likely sent to the Pantex Plant in northern Texas.
At one point, Nevada's legal team contended a court could direct the government to remove the half-metric ton that came from South Carolina, meaning their position was not moot. The appeals court disagreed.
At least some of that half-metric ton will remain about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas until the end of 2026, according to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. The entire metric ton will ultimately be moved to New Mexico – Los Alamos National Laboratory, more specifically – for weapons purposes. The material will be used for the production of pits, which are often referred to as nuclear weapon triggers.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak earlier this year requested in writing a meeting with President Donald Trump about the controversial and clandestine plutonium shipments. A letter from Sisolak describes the plutonium campaign as "secret" and "without my office's input."
Nevada "did not know" about the shipments ahead of its lawsuit, according to the 9th Circuit order.
But the NNSA announced its plan to move 1 metric ton of SRS plutonium to Nevada, Texas and New Mexico in a July 2018 environmental study. While the study does not provide pinpoint timelines, it mentions by name the Nevada National Security Site and the Savannah River Site, among other locales.