President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for next year would provide $120 million to restart licensing activities at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
That budget item got the attention of Aiken County, where the Savannah River Site temporarily hosts much of the radioactive waste which could eventually end up at Yucca. The county and state of South Carolina were among the entities which filed a lawsuit after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission — responding to pressure from powerful Nevada U.S. Sen. Harry Reid — ended plans to develop the site as the nation’s permanent storage site for nuclear materials. A federal appeals court sided with the lawsuit in 2013, ruling the NRC must act to either license Yucca Mountain or outright reject it.
“That waste was always promised to be taken out of our backyard and our residents wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian told South Carolina Radio Network. “So at least the discussion’s back out there for everybody to try and get it done.
He noted the proposal is only budget language which Congress would still need to pass, but said it was still a different direction from the Obama Administration shutting down the project entirely. Congress determined Yucca Mountain as the lone repository for high-level nuclear waste.in 1987 but work on the site was halted in 2010. According to a Government Accountability Office estimate at the time, the federal government has spent more than $15 billion developing the site.
Trump previously said while campaigning ahead of Nevada’s caucus that he does not support reopening Yucca Mountain. But he hedged his position a few months later, telling CNN in October he would “take a look at it” before coming up with an answer.
Killian said he’s hopeful, but not overly optimistic, that Yucca Mountain could eventually move forward again. “I don’t know how confident I am that it’ll happen,” he said. “But before the money was put in (the budget) and before this new administration came in, I wasn’t confident at all.”