Trump dumps plan to bury nuclear waste in Nevada

A sign warns of a falling danger on the crest of Yucca Mountain in Nevada, on July 14, 2018. (John Locher/AP photo via Courthouse News)

(CN) — The Trump administration appeared to execute an about-face on the use of Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump facility after the president tweeted reassurance to Nevadans that he would drop a proposal to resurrect the site.

Last week, President Donald Trump took to Twitter, writing: “Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you! Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions – my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches – I’m confident we can get it done!”

Whether the tweet reflects a permanent shift in official United State policy under Trump or is an effort to court vital voters in a swing state as Election Day looms ever nearer remains unclear.

The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository is located on federal land in Nye County, a relatively sparsely populated stretch of the Silver State about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The geological repository deep beneath Yucca Mountain has long been designated as one of the major dumping sites for spent nuclear fuel and the highly radioactive material produced by the generation of nuclear energy.

However, despite receiving funding through congressional cycles in the 2000s the Obama administration suspended the project, largely due to regional opposition to the project and the political influence of then-Nevada Senator Harry Reid.

Reid shared some tepid praise of Trump on Thursday on the heels of the president’s announcement.

“Yucca Mountain is dead and will remain dead,” Reid tweeted. “This has been true for a long, long time. Donald Trump finally realizing this, changing his position and trying to take credit for its demise will not change that fact. I’m glad he has finally seen the light.”

Nevadans have long expressed fierce opposition to the project, saying they don’t want to be the nuclear garbage can for the country. Many of them harbor bad feelings from the Nevada Test Site, where fallout from weapons testing since the 1950s is thought to have spiked cancer rates throughout the region.

Nevertheless, Trump asked for $120 million to restart the Yucca Mountain project as part of his first budget request. The latest budget also contained a request for funding for the project.

But it appears Trump is backing off that plan now, perhaps with his electoral prospects in mind. He lost Nevada to Hillary Clinton by 2.4 percentage points in the 2016 election.

Trump would do well to gain Nevada back, which has pockets of conservative culture, particularly in the rural parts of the state. However, Nevada has been trending increasingly blue in recent years due to the convergence of two trends. One, the booming Latino population and that demographic’s tendency to vote blue. Two, an exodus from California to cities like Reno and Las Vegas mean the more liberal-leaning voters often outvote their conservative rural counterparts.

But in Nevada, opposition to the Yucca Mountain facility is bipartisan, with universal contempt for the project spurred by concerns that seismic activity in the region render it a poor option.

“I look forward to working with you on this critical issue for Nevada and ensuring your budget doesn’t include any funding to restart the failed Yucca Mountain project that a majority of Nevadans reject, regardless of party,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto on Thursday.

However, many climate change advocates acknowledge nuclear power will likely be an instrumental part of transitioning to a carbon-free energy grid.

Nuclear power currently provides more than half of the carbon-free power produced in the United States.

In a Republican Party increasingly acknowledging the reality of climate change and scrambling to come up with solutions, nuclear power is an attractive option for many.

But the problem of what to do with the spent fuel and other highly radioactive material produced in the process remains. Currently, most of the nuclear power plants in the United States store the material onsite in dry storage casks made of concrete and steel as permanent storage solutions remain elusive.