Trump to Attempt Yucca Mountain Project Revival

Julia Grace
March 5, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: Yucca Mountain. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Yucca Mountain project, a proposed solution to long term nuclear waste management that was abandoned during the Obama administration, may be set back into action under Trump. The White House budget blueprint published in March 2017 set aside $120 million to restart the licensing process for the potential waste repository site, indicating that Trump may have plans to attempt to proceed with the project, despite intense local opposition. In the late 1980s, following the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, Yucca Mountain was chosen to be the sole repository for nuclear waste by Congress, through what many consider to have been sketchy, backroom negotiations. Already, $12 billion has been poured into the research of the plot of land and construction plans for the repository, though the facility would require significant additional funding to reach completion. [1]

The Problem

America's 99 operating nuclear reactors supply over 20% of the nation's electricity with 4 additional plants under construction. The nuclear industry considers a permanent storage facility such as Yucca Mountain to be a top priority. Already, two dozen retired or demolished plants have stranded waste that needs a permanent home. These shuttered plants are often located dangerously close to bodies of water and store nuclear waste in leaky tanks and steel drums. Proponents of the Yucca Mountain dump emphasize the necessity of safe disposal of nuclear waste from power plants across the country.

A Contentious Solution

The Department of Energy was supposed to begin accepting nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in 1998 but has faced heavy opposition both public and political. Nevadans are concerned about radiation emissions and find it unfair that despite lacking a single nuclear plant, the state would have to shoulder waste for the entire country. Led by Nevada native, Senator Harry Reid, the omnibus spending bill of 2008 cut the budget for Yucca Mountain to the point that the project was operating at a $300 million deficit. [2]

Another Shot

The $120 million the Trump administration has set aside for fiscal 2018 is meant to restart the licensing process to use Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository. According to Robert Halstead, chief of Nevada's nuclear office: "They think because Reid is gone this will be a cakewalk. Wrong. I see them going through a licensing procedure that will cost $1.5 billion and take five years, with a 50% chance of success." [3] Environmentalists opposing the project are joined by the state of Nevada and the powerful gambling industry. Located just 90 miles from Las Vegas. Casino operators worry that waste will be transported near the strip and that the nuclear waste depository could deter tourism.


Litigation since the 80s has thus far been able to grind the Yucca Mountain project to a halt. But as the years wear on, the problem of where and how to store our nuclear waste only becomes more pressing. Without Obama, Senator Reid or another viable option, Nevada is once again fending off attempts to make Yucca Mountain the permanent home for 70,000 tons of nuclear waste.

Further information about Yucca Mountain may be found in previouw works. [4-6]

© Julia Grace. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] T. Cama, "Trump Triggers Fight Over Yucca Waste Site," The Hill, 11 Ju 17.

[2] T. DiChristopher, "Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump, a PoliticalHot Potato, Is Back," CNBC, 16 Mar 17.

[3] R. Vartabedian, "Decades-Old War Over Yucca Mountain Nuclear Dump Resumes under Trump Budget Plan," Los Angeles Times, 29 Mar 17.

[4] J. Garcia, "The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2012.

[5] C. Druzgalski, "The Fate of Yucca Mountain," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2012.

[6] B. Li, "Yucca Mountain: A Case-Study in Political Treatment of Nuclear Waste," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2016.