In 1987, the U.S. Congress passed the Amendments to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that designated Yucca Mountain 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas as the top site to store nuclear waste from across the country.
For the last 30 years, the project has faced a strong opposition from Nevada officials and many residents of the state, while nuclear power interests, utility companies, and some Congress members have been supportive of it. In 2002, Congress and President George W. Bush approved Yucca Mountain as the first geologic repository for storage of spent fuel and high-level waste, and the licensing began in 2008. After the Obama administration at the urging of then-U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, mothballed the proposed plan to entomb the nation’s nuclear waste in a remote Nevada desert in 2010, the proposed repository was presumed dead.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future that was later established by the Obama administration to tackle the nuclear waste problem excluded Yucca Mountain and instead recommended a consent-based approach to siting for a permanent storage site. In 2013, a federal appeals court has ordered the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart the licensing proceeding for Yucca Mountain.
While proponents of Yucca Mountain say that the project could boost the economy of the state of Nevada, many scientific, safety, regulatory and political challenges to the project remain to this day. The state of Nevada filed over 200 technical and legal challenges including environmental, safety and transportation concerns with the project.
The future of the project now rests on the Trump administration. In January, it allocated $120 million for a restart of the licensing of Yucca Mountain in the budget blueprint. However, the final action on the budget is yet to be taken.
What exists at Yucca Mountain today
The U.S. Department of Energy spent $15 billion on Yucca Mountain to conduct studies and dig a 5-mile exploratory tunnel that can't be used for storage of nuclear waste.
In 2007, the Department of Energy estimated that a total system life-cycle for Yucca Mountain including the already spent $15 billion would be $96.18 billion. The figure would cover research, construction and operation of nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
The repository plan at that time assumed waste emplacement of 122,1000 metric tons of heavy metal, of which 109,300 metric tons were commercial spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants.
A recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office showed that restarting of the Yucca Mountain licensing proceeding could take $330 million and up to five years.
The "Yucca Mucker" a boring machine that was used to make a tunnel through Yucca Mountain
Yucca Mountain photos provided by the House Energy and Commerce Committee