US considers reviving Yucca Mountain waste project

17 March 2017

The US government’s fiscal 2018 budget plan for the Department of Energy  (DOE) includes $120m to restart licensing for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The project has been frozen by lawsuits and by environmental and local opposition. The move signals that President Donald Trump may consider the site as a solution to extending the lives of existing US nuclear plants that face problems with disposal of their used fuel, Reuters reported on 16 March.

"These investments would accelerate progress on fulfilling the federal government's obligations to address nuclear waste, enhance national security, and reduce future taxpayer burden," according to a summary of the budget proposal.

Yucca Mountain has been considered since the 1970s as a potential repository for the nation's radioactive waste and billions of dollars have already been spent. However legal challenges and widespread opposition from local politicians, environmentalists and Native American groups stalled the project.

In 2010, President Barack Obama withdrew the licence to store waste at Yucca in face of opposition from then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.

Trump's energy secretary, Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, told lawmakers at his confirmation hearing that restarting the Yucca Mountain project could not be ruled out, but that he would collaborate with states.  "I am very aware that this is an issue this country has been flummoxed by for 30 years. We have spent billions of dollars on this issue," Perry told the hearing in January. "I’ll work closely with you and the members of this committee to find the answers to this issue." The White House proposal for the DOE budget overall envisages a 5.6% cut, including the elimination of some research programmes.

Photo: Yucca Mountain site (Credit: DOE)

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