Yucca Mountain

In 2002 Yucca Mountain was officially designated as the site to store the nation’s spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste. At that time U.S. Energy Secretary recommended the site to President George W. Bush, who approved it. As allowed under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (NWPA), the Governor of Nevada vetoed the decision, but the veto was subsequently overturned by Congress. As of 2016 the status of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain remains uncertain.

Prior to 1987, and as required under the NWPA, the Department of Energy had selected ten locations in six states for consideration as potential repository sites. After detailed studies of these sites, President Reagan approved three sites for detailed site characterization. The three sites were Hanford, Washington; Deaf Smith County, Texas; and Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In 1987 Congress amended the NWPA and directed DOE to study only Yucca Mountain. The Act did provide that if Yucca Mountain was found unsuitable, “site characterization studies” would be stopped. (More details about how/why Yucca Mountain was chosen)  link


  • Present day situation
  • Costs
  • Yucca Mountain on hold – 2010

YuccaMountain.org timeline

 Present day situation

As of 2018, the U.S, has about 80,000 tons of nuclear waste sitting in some 70 aboveground water pool sites around the country. Each year the amount adds a further 2,000 tone. Yucca Mountain cannot store that quantity.

March 2017: Decades-old war over Yucca Mountain resumes under Trump budget plan. Under a 1982 law, the federal government was supposed to begin moving nuclear waste to a permanent location by 1998. There is currently more than 70,000 metric tons of waste stored at U.S. nuclear power plants. President Trump is asking Congress to approve $120 million in spending to restart licensing activity at the Yucca Mountain repository and fund an interim storage program. That would allow development to start up again. The industry has pressured D.C. to find a solution. Energy companies have mounted legal challenges that have cost the government more than $5 billion in settlements, a figure that could balloon to $29 billion by 2022, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a lobbying group. link

March 2017: The White House revives a controversial plan for nuclear waste. In a proposed budget the Trump administration found $120 million to restart an approval process for Yucca Mountain. The project that former Nevada senator Harry Reid, perhaps its fiercest critic, denounced as “dead” is back. Considerable challenges are still head for reviving the project. Assuming Congress approves the $120 million, the federal government faces deeply entrenched opposition in Nevada. The state has filed 218 contentions against the Department of Energy’s application for the storage site, detailing both technical and legal concerns. Going through the contentions will take an estimated four to five years of hearings and cost the federal government $2 billion—all before the shovel even hits the ground. link

August 2013: Yucca depository decision revived. Appeals court says it’s time to approve or deny Yucca Mountain once and for all. A U.S. appeals court says Nuclear Regulatory Commission is legally obligated to finish the application process for the Yucca Mountain site, and to deny or approve the license. The suit to force the NRC to finish the process was brought by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and other parties including Washington state and South Carolina. link


August 2008: Yucca Mountain cost estimate rises to $96 billion. The US Department of Energy (DoE) has issued a revised total cost estimate for the planned national used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste (HLW) repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The latest estimate puts the cost of research, construction and operation of the geologic repository over a 150 year period – from when work started in 1983 through to the facility’s expected closure and decommissioning in 2133 – at $96.2 billion in 2007 dollars. This is a 67% increase on the previous published estimate in 2001 of $57.5 billion.  The new estimated cost includes some $13.5 billion that has already spent on the project; $54.8 billion for the construction, operation and decommissioning of the repository; $19.5 billion for transportation of the used fuel; and, $8.4 billion for other program activities. link 

May 2014: Tiny nuclear waste fee added up to billions. The tiny one quarter of a penny per kWh on consumers’ bills added up to $ 43 billion over the decades. About $12 billion was spent on developing Yucca Mountain, There is virtually no plan moving forward in Washington to build a dump or even a temporary central storage site. The $31-billion trust fund will continue to accrue interest and is available to help build a dump at some point, though it is probably not enough. Experts had estimated that the Yucca Mountain project would cost at least $100 billion. link

Yucca put on hold – 2010

February 2010: Nuclear waste storage in limbo as Obama axes funds. Plans to bury nuclear waste inside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, a project that has long been the subject environmental and political opposition, appear all but dead. Funding for the nuclear repository was eliminated in President Obama’s budget proposal released Monday. What’s more it was reported that the Department of Energy has moved to suspend licensing for the desert storage site. link 

January 2010: Yucca Mountain’s future on hold. Expert panel to examine nuclear waste options. The U.S. Department of Energy announced the formation of a blue ribbon commission to evaluate policy options for a safe, long-term solution to America’ growing piles of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants and high-level radioactive waste from U.S. defense programs. The commission’s interim report is due in July 2011. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, ANA, is critical that membership of commission is not balanced as there is no member of the panel who represents communities near nuclear weapons sites. link

May 2011. A Government Accountability Office report says decision to terminate the Yucca Mountain repository program was made for policy reasons, not technical or safety reasons. link