This undated image obtained February 22, 2004 shows a rail tunnel descending into the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository located in Nye County, Nevada, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Yucca Mountain is the US Department of Energy's potential geologic repository designed to store and dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. | AFP/Getty Images

Trump Eyes Rebooting Yucca Mountain, as Nuclear Waste Piles Up

The White House has asked Congress for $120 million to jump-start the stalled development of a permanent storage facility for the nation's nuclear waste — but a resolution to the decades-long debate appears as unlikely as ever.

Published On 05/30/2017
10:22 AM EDT
A A cross the United States, in pools of cold water and thick steel-and-concrete drums, sits the unwanted residue of America’s nuclear power plants.
More than 75,000 tons of highly radioactive spent fuel rods that once powered commercial reactors are waiting for a permanent home, where they can be locked away safely for the thousands of years it will take the isotopes within to decay. Plans for that repository have been on hold since the Obama administration pulled the plug on the site at Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles outside Las Vegas, after years of bipartisan objections from Nevada officials.
But a pair of developments this week have put new focus on the question of what to do with that high-level nuclear waste. The Trump administration has asked Congress for $120 million to jump-start the stalled Yucca Mountain project.  And nuclear safety analysts are urging Congress or state governments to do an end run around federal regulators and require more of that waste be put in dry storage, arguing that would reduce the odds of a trillion-dollar disaster.
Ed Lyman, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and one of the authors of an article in the research journal Science advancing that argument, estimated about 80 percent of the fuel assemblies stored in spent fuel pools should be pulled out and sealed in reinforced dry casks.
“Spent fuel is probably going to be at reactor sites for a very long time,” Lyman said. “The question is, given that, what do we need to do to make sure that long-term storage is as safe as possible? That means expediting transfer to dry casks and thinning out the pools.”
“The issue may be cash flow.”