January 31, 2019

Plutonium Punchout: Nevada, South Carolina, and the DOE

Timothy Birdnow

The Department of Energy secretly shipped almost a half a metric ton of weapons grade plutonium to a storage facility seventy miles north of Las Vegas in violation of a court order.

According to Fox News:

"The Justice Department notified a federal judge in Reno that the government trucked in the radioactive material to store at a site 70 miles north of Las Vegas before Nevada asked a court to block the move in November.

Department lawyers said in a nine-page filing that the previously classified information about the shipment from South Carolina can be disclosed now because enough time has passed to protect national security.

"Because sufficient time has now elapsed after conclusion of this campaign, DOE may now publicly state that it has completed all shipment of plutonium (approximately ½ metric ton) to Nevada,” Bruce Diamond, general counsel for the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, wrote in the court declaration, noting that the action was previously classified, as The Hill reported. "Although the precise date that this occurred cannot be revealed for reasons of operational security, it can be stated that this was done before November 2018, prior to the initiation of the litigation.”

There has been an ongoing legal battle over this for over a year now, and the government had little reason to rock this particular boat. Something more is at work.

Remember, this is weapons grade plutonium, not nuclear waste. Why risk moving it to the middle of the desert? Plutonium, in addition to being radioactive, is a highly toxic substance, and a train derailment - or purposeful attack - in a populated area could poison a lot of people. It can also be used in a radiological bomb (it's doubtful anyone would be able to effectively make an atomic bomb with plutonium;; it's far more difficult than one from enriched uranium, although there would no doubt be a black market for it and countries like North Korea and Iran would love to buy some.) You don't ship this stuff around without good reason.

According to Lentech:

Plutonium is sometimes described in media reports as the most toxic substance known to man, although there is general agreement among experts in the field that this is incorrect. As of 2003, there has yet to be a single human death officially attributed to plutonium exposure. Naturally-occurring radium is about 200 times more radiotoxic than plutonium, and some organic toxins like Botulism toxin are billions of times more toxic than plutonium.

The alpha radiation it emits does not penetrate the skin, but can irradiate internal organs when plutonium is inhaled or ingested. Extremely small particles of plutonium on the order of micrograms can cause lung cancer if inhaled into the lungs. Considerably larger amounts may cause acute radiation poisoning and death if ingested or inhaled; however, so far, no human is known to have died because of inhaling or ingesting plutonium and many people have measurable amounts of plutonium in their bodies. Plutonium is a dangerous substance that has been used in explosives for a long time. It is released into the atmosphere primarily by atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and by accidents at weapon production sites. When plutonium is released into the atmosphere it will fall back onto earth eventually and end up in soils.

At any rate, this stuff is a target and one must ask why the DOE is moving it to a storage facility in Nevada. Also, it is not being moved to a place where it can be used for nuclear weapons construction. This is of key importance. America's nuclear arsenal goes back to the Reagan buildup of the '80's, and even before; it is entirely inadequate, and likely few of our ICBM's would be functional in the event of need. The Trump Administration has promised to remedy that. If we are moving plutonium then there is a reason for it - probably a good one. And, contrary to what the media portrays, the Trump Administration doesn't go looking for fights. There is no reason why they would defy a federal judge (Obama appointed?) without cause.

Again, this is not nuclear waste.

And this illustrates the incurious and ignorant nature of the mainstream media, who have not asked this question and seem uncomprehending. The articles I read on the subject suggest the writers at the Ass Press (on which most of these articles are based) do not understand the difference between waste and material.

There is more to this than meets the eye.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 10:13 AM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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