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Trump signals opposition to nuclear waste site in Nevada despite his budget proposals to fund it

President Trump attends a rally in Elko, Nev., on Saturday.
President Trump attends a rally in Elko, Nev., on Saturday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

ELKO, Nev. — President Trump signaled opposition Saturday to reviving Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage site, even though his administration has allocated millions of dollars to the project that has long been controversial in this state.

For years, Nevada lawmakers have blocked attempts to restart licensing at the repository, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and presidential candidates traveling to this swing state have long been pressed for their stances on Yucca. 

“I think you should do things where people want them to happen, so I would be very inclined to be against it,” Trump said Saturday of Yucca in an interview with KRNV-News 4, based in Reno. “We will be looking at it very seriously over the next few weeks, and I agree with the people of Nevada.”

But in both of its budget plans to Congress, the Trump administration designated $120 million for the Yucca project. Justifying the funding proposal this year, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said: “We have a legal responsibility. We have this waste out there. We need to have this licensing issue addressed.” 

When asked whether Trump’s comments reflected a new administration position on Yucca, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters pointed out that he had said the issue will be looked at “very seriously” in the coming weeks.

The administration’s proposed Yucca funding has prompted furor from most members of the Nevada congressional delegation, and the latest spending bill that funds the Energy Department through September 2019 did not include money for the project.

“I’ve made it clear why Nevada does not want to turn into the nation’s nuclear waste dump,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who campaigned with Trump on Saturday in this northeastern Nevada town, said earlier this year when the administration released its fiscal 2019 proposal. 

Heller’s Democratic challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen, also opposes the project and pressed the Trump administration to follow through on the president’s comments and designate no money for the Yucca licensing when it writes its budget proposal next year. 

“While I’m encouraged to see the president finally say that he will listen to our state and change course on this dangerous plan for nuclear waste, we must continue to hold this administration accountable and ensure that the White House and Republican leaders in Washington follow through on actually abandoning their efforts to force this reckless project down our throats,” Rosen said Saturday.

As a presidential candidate, Trump declined to take a position on whether Yucca Mountain should be used as a storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. 

“I’m going to take a look at it because so many people are talking about it. I came into town, and everyone’s talking about it. So I will take a very strong look at it, and the next time you interview me, we’ll talk about it for five minutes,” Trump told KSNV in Las Vegas in October 2016.