It is absolutely crucial the next secretary of energy upholds a promise made by Rick Perry, the current secretary, to remove a half-metric ton of defense plutonium from Nevada in the coming years, U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said recently.
Beyond opposing the fizzled Yucca Mountain nuclear venture, the incoming secretary should "honor the written commitment I secured from Sec. Perry to remove the secret shipment of plutonium from our state beginning in 2021," Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, wrote on Twitter Oct. 18.
The cache of weapons-grade plutonium in question, now stored northwest of Las Vegas at the Nevada National Security Site, was sent from the Savannah River Site. The material will ultimately be used for nuclear weapons work in New Mexico.
Cortez Masto was among the many Nevada officials who condemned the cross-country, court-driven plutonium shipments, which were completed some time last year, according to court documents. The SRS-to-NNSS relocation campaign has been publicly described as furtive, clandestine and unfair.
In an April letter to Cortez Masto, Perry – who will be leaving his post atop the DOE by the end of the year and is tangled in House Democrats' impeachment inquiry – promised to begin relocating the half-metric ton in 2021.
The effort would be complete by the end of 2026, he said.
Cortez Masto at the time hailed the commitment as a significant win: "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."
In a mid-June interview with the Aiken Standard, National Nuclear Security Administration chief Lisa Gordon-Hagerty said Perry's promise was sincere and holds water.
"But what we're doing is making sure that we are continuing to stay with our agreement, which is we will have the material out of the state of Nevada by the end of 2026, and hopefully sooner," Gordon-Hagerty said.
The NNSA is a semiautonomous weapons-and-nonproliferation agency under the Energy Department's umbrella.
Perry earlier this month announced he would be leaving President Donald Trump's cabinet and returning to Texas – his "favorite place in the world" and the state where he was once governor.
Shortly after, Trump announced his intent to nominate Dan Brouillette, Perry's deputy, to be the next energy secretary.
In a post on Twitter, Brouillette said he looked forward to continuing Perry's "legacy of energy independence, innovation, and security for the American people."
Cortez Masto is a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over nuclear waste policy, among other topics. As a senator, Cortez Masto has a say in Brouillette's potential confirmation.