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Dispute surfaces in plan to move nuclear material

House panel gets conflicting reports on plutonium, uranium headed to test site

By Tony Batt
Las Vegas Review

WASHINGTON – A House subcommittee chairman who has pushed for the transfer of two tons of weapons-grade nuclear materials from New Mexico to the Nevada Test Site heard conflicting reports Tuesday on how much of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium would be moved.

Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., opened the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight by saying he was pleased by the March 31 announcement that all of the nuclear material from Technical Area 18 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory would be moved to the test site.

The Device Assembly Facility, a secure facility about 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas, would store the nuclear materials.

They are considered accessible to terrorists at their location in New Mexico.

Deputy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow testified the move would start later this year and would include "all Category I and II special nuclear material," designations for plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

But Danielle Brian, the executive director of a nonprofit watchdog group called the Project on Government Oversight, told Greenwood the department plans to move only 50 percent of the nuclear materials.

"Perhaps in closed session you can get a commitment when, if ever, they intend to move the other 50 percent," Brian said.

Brian made the same charge at an April 27 hearing of a House Government Reform subcommittee.

In that hearing, Linton Brooks, chief of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which runs the test site and the Los Alamos lab, disputed Brian's charge and said the department plans to move all of the nuclear materials.

Greenwood said he understood that the 50 percent to be moved would include all of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

"The 50 percent that would remain at Los Alamos will not include any Category I or II nuclear material," Greenwood said.

Brian said she could produce a document showing the material transferred would include only 50 percent of the plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Brian urged Greenwood to seek a commitment from Brooks in a closed session after Tuesday's hearing to move all of the nuclear materials to the test site.

"I hope this committee holds NNSA's feet to the fire until the TA-18 materials are permanently at the Nevada Test Site," Brian said.

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