Trump puts Yucca back on nuclear waste map

President Donald Trump has proposed to set aside funds in the 2018 federal budget to restart a stalled plan to build a repository for nuclear waste below Yucca Mountain.

The Trump administration has allotted $120 million for the site, which the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a regulator, has said meets the safety requirements for the long-term storage of such waste.

The Nevada-based project, located in the desert 100 miles from Las Vegas, has been a political football since it was first proposed in 1987.

It is regarded as the best candidate for a safe nuclear repository, “composed of multiple barriers to isolate radioactivity from the environment and groundwater”. During the previous administration of Barack Obama it also had the backing of the president’s science adviser John Holdren and energy secretary Steven Chu.

However, the repository was strongly opposed by the state and in particular by Nevada’s powerful senator Harry Reid, who was also the leader of the Republicans in the Senate. In 2011 during his first term, Obama cut federal funding for the repository.

Although Reid is no longer in the Senate, Trump’s move, according to Sheldon Landsberger, a professor in nuclear radiation at the University of Texas, will still be a test of whether the federal government can impose such a facility on a state.

“The Republican party has control of the Senate as well as the house congressional,” said Landsberger. “There’s virtually very little that the Democrats can do to overturn it, the same way the Republicans could do very little when Obama stopped Yucca Mountain.”

There are more than 76,000 tons of nuclear waste held in the nation’s 99 reactors, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute and one out of three Americans lives within 50 miles of high-level nuclear waste. Deep geologic disposal is considered the best long-term solution.

“The site probably needs to go forward,” says Landsberger. “Regardless [of political debate] you can’t keep storing nuclear waste on these sites endlessly for the next 40 or 50 years. You need one central place that it is kept in and monitored for a long period of time.”

Story published on Research Europe, September 14 2017