U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., pictured here defending the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility during a subcommittee hearing earlier this year.

A contingent of congressman, including two from South Carolina, recently toured what was once expected to be a massive nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert.

U.S. Reps. Jeff Duncan and Mark Sanford, both South Carolina Republicans, were among the dozen lawmakers who explored and learned about Yucca Mountain last weekend.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, a Republican from Illinois and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce environment subcommittee, led the tour.

Duncan, who supports re-energizing the Yucca Mountain venture, said the trip only strengthened his belief that the geologic repository "is the perfect site for longterm nuclear waste storage."

"If we can’t store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain," Duncan said in a prepared statement, "then we can’t store it anywhere in the country, plain and simple."

Congress first identified Yucca Mountain in the 1980s to become a sprawling nuclear storehouse. Congress then gave the project further go-ahead in 2002.

But Yucca Mountain prospects – funding, too – soured and spoiled during President Barack Obama's time in office.

At the time, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a federal spending watchdog, said the project was ultimately terminated for political reasons and pressure.

In a May Facebook post, Sanford described Yucca Mountain as a "political football of sorts."

Aiken County is no stranger to nuclear affairs, let alone nuclear waste given the Savannah River Site. More than 100 sites across the country – a majority of states – currently store nuclear waste.

Duncan posted several videos to his Facebook page chronicling his weekend visit, at one point standing inside a gaping tunnel and at another standing on top of the mountain.

"Knowing that in South Carolina, and in the 3rd Congressional District, we have a lot of nuclear waste that needs to go to a longterm repository, Yucca Mountain's the site," Duncan said in one Facebook video.

Earlier this year, the House passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, which directs the U.S. Department of Energy to consolidate spent nuclear fuel while Yucca Mountain is streamlined and ironed out.

Duncan described the in-flux federal vault as a "national solution for a national problem."

Sanford described Yucca Mountain similarly about two months ago while advocating for the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act.

"This is about not building a mountain of waste in South Carolina and a whole lot of other interim sites across this country," Sanford said at the time.

During another Facebook check-in Sunday, Duncan said he hopes to get the Yucca Mountain project "back on track" with the help of his fellow legislators.

In a prepared statement, he elaborated: "I will continue to urge my colleagues in the Senate to do the right thing by the American people and move forward with smart Yucca Mountain policy by sending this bill to President Trump’s desk.”

But opposition, both local and federal, has been historically strong.

Seismic and volcanic concerns have pockmarked Yucca Mountain startup, as have legal actions, anti-nuclear petitions and cross-country transportation worries.

A two-page analysis of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act.

President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2019 budget request included $120 million for Yucca Mountain and the interim storage program, according to documents released mid-February.

A budget request briefing document described the $120 million as demonstration of the administration's "commitment" to clean up nuclear waste and motivate the Yucca Mountain project.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin