LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -- State leaders said they were outraged after learning the federal government secretly shipped plutonium to Nevada.
FOX5 spoke to an environmental science expert about how the shipment could impact the state.
“It’s the danger of the ‘if.’ What happens if something were to occur,” CSN professor Dr. Douglas Sims said.
Half a metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium was brought into Nevada behind the backs of state leaders some time before November 2018.
“This did happen without anyone's knowledge and this happened without the knowledge of my office, without the knowledge of the attorney general's office, without the knowledge of any of our federal delegations," Governor Steve Sisolak said.
The radioactive material was transported by truck from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site about 100 miles north of Las Vegas.
“It’s actually the safest, because it’s easier to control the routes and security of it,” Dr. Sims said. “Versus an aircraft: if an aircraft is transporting it and it goes down, it’d be a much larger event with the spread of those radioactive materials.”
Dr. Sims has studied the rare element and its many uses.
“Nuclear weapons [are] one of the biggest ones of course,” he said. “Nuke batteries is another area to power satellites such as Galileo.”
He said historically the federal government has focused on Nevada as a dump site for 30-40 years.
“What makes Nevada so attractive, it’s a state with very little population compared to the states that are making and using the material and shipping it,” Dr. Sims said.
He added the dangers are in its transportation, not in its storage.
“If something goes wrong, if the state of Nevada is out of the loop, the state of Nevada does not have the secondary contingency plans to back up the federal government on the transport,” he said.
And if a spill were to occur, it could cause chronic problems for people and the environment.
“We have wind erosion. If the material gets up into the wind and you inhale it, you drink it or ingest it, it would be stationary in your body,” Dr. Sims explained. “As long as it’s in there, it’s emitting radioactive isotopes into the surrounding tissues. And that’s the big concern that Nevada has. If something were to occur, what would be the long-term effect? It would be increased cancer, tumors and other diseases related to exposure to plutonium.”
But in this latest case, Dr. Sims said we would’ve known by now if there were any risks. Instead he believes the state and federal government need to communicate to plan any future shipments.
“The public shouldn’t be worried because it would be difficult for them to hide an accident at this time,” he said. “I think the best thing going forward would be for the state of Nevada to be notified anytime there’s a transport so they can put their put their second layer of security on that convoy to protect the people.”