Just days before a federal budget blueprint is rolled out, President Donald Trump announced he has weighed Nevadans' concerns and will back off the Yucca Mountain endeavor, which his administration has requested funds for year after year.
"Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!" the president wrote on Twitter Thursday evening. Trump said his administration is committed to "exploring innovative approaches – I'm confident we can get it done!"
What those approaches are is not immediately clear.
The single tweet – surrounded by other, unrelated messages – was well received by Nevada lawmakers and politicians, including former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, an influential Democrat who has raged against the now-fizzled nuclear repository for years.
The former Senate majority leader on Thursday said he was glad Trump "has finally seen the light" regarding Yucca Mountain, which Reid further said is "dead and will remain dead."
Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles from Las Vegas, was in the 1980s identified as the nation's potential nuclear storehouse – it would take, and hold, some of the most hazardous wastes on the planet. The project was given a green light in 2002. But it ground to a halt under President Barack Obama and has sputtered ever since.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in 2019 blamed Reid for the project flopping. U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, another South Carolina Republican, has said it's "absurd" the deep geologic repository has not come to fruition.
Duncan, in a lengthy statement Friday, admonished the president's apparent about-face.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak – who has bristled with the U.S. Department of Energy over a half-metric ton of defense plutonium quietly shipped into his state from the Savannah River Site – welcomed the president's words Thursday.
Sisolak, a Democrat, said he looked forward to seeing zero funding for Yucca Mountain in the budget, which is expected as soon as Monday.
Trump's tweet signals a pivot away from a prior position: Recent budget requests included $120 million and $116 million, respectively, for the nuclear storage project. Congress, though, didn't approve.
"With this change of direction by the Trump administration, decades of unfortunate attempts to shove nuclear waste down Yucca Mountain officially come to an end," Geoff Fettus, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement Friday.
Trump's message is colored by Nevada's upcoming presidential primary. Trump, who is now seeking his second term, lost the Silver State in 2016 to competitor Hillary Clinton. Democratic presidential candidates this election cycle have voiced strong opposition to Yucca Mountain, citing safety and consent concerns.
"While I understand this has become a sensitive political issue in Nevada, it's important to remember that Yucca Mountain is federal land, and the property clause gives the federal government the power to make the repository a reality," Duncan, the South Carolinian, said. "Nevada can't have ultimate veto power over federal law."
More than two-dozen states across the country currently store nuclear waste. That includes South Carolina – at the Savannah River Site directly south of Aiken, for example.