SRS Sign, NNSA Oral Arguments

The Savannah River Site, a 310 square-mile complex, is located south of Aiken.

In a sign a ruling may come quickly, a federal appeals court earlier this month decided it does not need to hear oral arguments regarding defense plutonium that was sent from South Carolina to Nevada and the environmental infractions the latter state alleges occurred.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it would handle the case Aug. 9 utilizing just what has been submitted to the court. Oral arguments "would not significantly aid the decisional process," according to the July 3 order.

In November of 2018, Nevada sued the U.S. Department of Energy and its nuclear security arm to prevent plutonium from being sent to the state – a state that has also fought over Yucca Mountain, a mothballed nuclear repository. Nevada's legal team in a federal district court argued the Energy Department's environmental considerations were faulty, among other things.

A half-metric ton of weapons-usable plutonium had already been sent to the Nevada National Security Site, though, according to a later court declaration made by National Nuclear Security Administration General Counsel Bruce Diamond.

The district court's decision did not favor Nevada's angle. An appeal was made earlier this year.

The plutonium now at NNSS came from the Savannah River Site. South Carolina was granted intervenor status in the case – after filing an emergency motion – early on.

Near the end of 2017, and after a protracted legal battle, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs ordered the Energy Department to remove 1 metric ton of plutonium from the Palmetto State by 2020.

The NNSA and its officials have time and time again assured South Carolina and various courts the deadline would be met. The agency pointed to Nevada, Texas and New Mexico for its solution.

NNSA chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, who is also the DOE's under secretary for nuclear security, in mid-June guaranteed the total metric ton would be out of South Carolina "well before 31 December of 2019."

The half-metric ton currently staged northwest of Las Vegas will be again relocated by the end of 2026, according to U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. The total 1 metric ton is flagged for weapons uses.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin