Trump’s Yucca Mountain funding refuels political fight over nation’s nuclear waste

February 21, 2018

President Donald Trump’s budget includes money to jumpstart the removal of spent nuclear fuel from across the U.S. and place it in Nevada. Illinois’ congressional expert says it’s well past time, but Nevada politicians are telling the nation “not in my backyard.”

Trump’s 2017 proposal contained $120 million to continue the safety studies to ensure storing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel wouldn’t harm anyone in the planned Yucca Mountain Repository, a man-made cave deep below a mountain 100 miles from Las Vegas. He’s proposed the same amount this year.

The project was stalled nearly a decade ago by ex-Nevada Senator Harry Reid and President Barack Obama.

“It’s criminal neglect that the last administration broke the law by not funding this project,” U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, said. “Now, our local communities like Zion are paying that price.”

In suburban Zion, the spent fuel from the community’s long-shuttered power plant still remain, taking up prime lakefront property.

With six power plants and eleven operating reactors, Illinois has more nuclear reactors than any other state. Much of the spent fuel is stored on site. According to the National Energy Institute, 76,000 tons of spent nuclear energy is currently being stored in temporary locations like Zion.

Many Nevada politicians oppose Yucca. Nevada Senator Dean Heller has sponsored bills that would essentially stop the program. Reacting to Trump’s budget, he said it would be catastrophic for Nevada, and he would “make sure that this project doesn’t see the light of day.”

“Rather than pursue a realistic attempt to develop a substantive nuclear waste management program, this is a colossal waste of funding that goes directly against the will of Nevadans,” Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nevada, said.

Locally, officials welcome the repository.

“I applaud the president for his leadership on this important matter and urge Congress to pass the Yucca Mountain funding request,” said Nye County Board Vice Chairman Dan Schinhofen. “Included in the budget request is $3.6 million for Nye County as the host community for the repository. These funds would be used for a number of crucial investments, including funding for programs for our county’s seniors, housing assistance for veterans and to help provide medical services for central Nevada.”

Consolidated interim storage facilities, which would place the nation’s spent fuel in dry cask storage much as it is now but grouped into specific areas, would be achievable in 5 to 10 years, Shimkus said. Should plans commence, he estimated Yucca would be receiving spent fuel shipments in 15 to 20 years.