Trump halts support for Yucca Mountain, Nevada nuclear waste dump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he opposes the long-delayed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada, reversing his policy on a project on which the United States has spent billions of dollars over decades but never opened.

Republican Trump’s past three budgets have called for the licensing process of Yucca to restart with $116 million proposed last year in the 2020 budget, and $120 million in each of the previous years.

On Thursday, however, Trump wrote on Twitter: “Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!” The administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches, he wrote, adding “I’m confident we can get it done.”

In addition, a senior administration official said, “The President’s 2021 budget will not have funding for the licensing of Yucca Mountain in it.”

Yucca Mountain has been pending since Ronald Reagan was president and the government has spent money on initial construction and design, despite staunch opposition to the project from lawmakers in Nevada, who have said that the federal government has tried to pressure a sparsely-populated state.

Trump’s administration has tried to support nuclear power plants which are suffering from high security costs and competition from power plants that burn natural gas, which analysts expect to fall to lowest price in more than 20 years.

Tensions between Nevada lawmakers and Washington over nuclear waste flared when the administration revealed that the government secretly shipped to Nevada deadly plutonium from a South Carolina site that produced it for nuclear bombs during the Cold War. The shipment occurred sometime before November 2018.

U.S. Representative Dina Titus, a Democrat from Nevada, said on Twitter: “President Trump tried to shove nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain down our throats for three years. We beat him badly and he knows it.”

Nuclear waste from electricity generation is currently stored at nuclear power plants, first at spent fuel pools and then dry storage casks.

Other sites being considered for the waste are in rural Texas and New Mexico.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Grant McCool