Near the southern tip of Nevada is a ridge politicians have been fighting over for 30 years.
Yucca Mountain was designated the permanent underground storage site for nuclear waste in 1987. It had an ambitious mission—to entomb high-level radioactive waste safely for at least 10,000 years—and a tentative opening date of 1998. But the process of even approving its construction has dragged on through four presidents. In 2011, the Obama administration officially mothballed the project.
Then it was Trump’s turn. In a proposed budget last week that otherwise slashes non-defense spending, the Trump administration found $120 million to restart an approval process for Yucca Mountain. The project that former Nevada senator Harry Reid, perhaps its fiercest critic, denounced as “dead” is back.
“You’d have to say the glass is half full for Yucca Mountain,” said David Blee, the executive director of the United States Nuclear Infrastructure Council, a consortium of nuclear industry companies that support the project. While not exactly exuberant, it’s the most optimistic assessment of Yucca Mountain in years.
Considerable challenges are still head for reviving the project. Assuming Congress approves the $120 million, the federal government faces deeply entrenched opposition in Nevada. The state has filed 218 contentions against the Department of Energy’s application for the storage site, detailing both technical and legal concerns. Going through the contentions will take an estimated four to five years of hearings and cost the federal government $2 billion—all before the shovel even hits the ground.