Donald Trump’s War on Nukes

February 24, 2020

Wind Turbines, he tells us, cause cancer.
He loves “beautiful coal”.
And while historically climate denying Republicans polish their pro-nuke credentials as part of edging toward reality, Trump suddenly grows concern about nuclear waste….

New York Times:

Before the 2018 midterm elections, Senator Dean Heller stood with President Trump in the glittering Trump International Hotel near the Las Vegas Strip, looking out from the top floor, and pointed.

“I said, ‘See those railroad tracks?’” Mr. Heller, a Nevada Republican who lost his seat later that year, recalled in an interview. Nuclear waste to be carted to Yucca Mountain for permanent storage would have to travel along the tracks, within a half-mile of the hotel, Mr. Heller said.

“I think he calculated pretty quickly what that meant,” Mr. Heller said. “I think it all made sense. There was a moment of reflection, of, ‘Oh, OK.’”

Whether the waste would have traveled along those particular tracks is a subject of debate. But the conversation appears to have helped focus Mr. Trump, who in recent weeks seemed to end his administration’s support for moving nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, a proposal that had been embraced by his appointees for three years despite his own lack of interest.

“Why should you have nuclear waste in your backyard?” Mr. Trump asked the crowd at a rally in Las Vegas on Friday, to applause, noting that his recently released budget proposal did not include funding to license the site, as previous ones had.

The story of the muddled and shifting position on Yucca Mountain is partly one of an administration focused on Mr. Trump’s re-election chances in a battleground state that he lost to Hillary Clinton by two percentage points in 2016. But it is also emblematic of a White House where the president has strong impulses on only a narrow set of issues, and policy is sometimes made in his name regardless of whether he approves of it.

In Mr. Trump’s decentralized administration, top aides and agency leaders have sometimes pursued their own agendas, at times creating politically perilous situations for him. The confusion around policy over the last three years has ranged from issues like the repeal of the program for undocumented immigrants known as DACA, largely steered by the attorney general at the time, to a more recent internal debate about a ban on some e-cigarette flavors, driven by the health and human services secretary.

The president made his latest move after a monthslong policy debate inside the White House over finally breaking with support for Yucca, officials said.

“While Congress has played political games over Yucca Mountain for years and failed to find a solution, the president is showing real leadership by respecting the people of Nevada and their wishes,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman. “President Trump is committed to finding the best options for the safe and efficient disposal of our nuclear waste.”

This article is based on interviews with nearly a dozen people familiar with the administration’s knotty relationship with the proposal.

Yucca Mountain, in the desert about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was conceived as a permanent storage place for the nation’s radioactive waste, which is currently scattered across dozens of holding sites around the country.

Nationally, Republicans have long favored the proposal, which was developed in the late 1980s and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. But Nevada politicians of both parties have remained steadfastly opposed to the policy, which is deeply unpopular in the state.

“I don’t know of a major elected official in Nevada today, or in the last five years or 10 years, for that matter, that hasn’t specifically pushed to keep the waste out of the state,” Mr. Heller said.

The project was halted by President Barack Obama, partly at the urging of Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada who was the Senate majority leader at the time, but most Republican leaders outside of the state remained supportive. While the plans for Yucca remain law as set under Mr. Bush, Congress has never moved to fund it since.

People close to Mr. Trump, who won the Republican nomination in what amounted to a hostile takeover of the party, say he never favored the idea despite suggesting at the end of the 2016 presidential campaign that he was looking at it. But he also did not care enough to intervene as his previous energy secretary, Rick Perry, supported the measure, and as the Office of Management and Budget listed $120 million in the president’s budget to restart the licensing process of the site. It was listed as one of the administration’s priorities.

Two of Mr. Trump’s political advisers, Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, flagged Yucca Mountain early on as a political danger zone, particularly if Mr. Trump wanted to try to put Nevada in play in 2020.

Still, meetings about the proposal continued to be held. At one such meeting of more than 30 people at the White House complex, Mr. Clark reminded the room that Mr. Trump did not back the project, and an administration official began yelling that it would move forward anyway, according to an attendee.

It was in the last year, and after Mr. Trump’s understanding of the potential proximity of nuclear waste to his property, that the president focused on ensuring that everyone in his administration got the message about where he stood.

“Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!” he tweeted this month. “Congress and previous Administrations have long failed to find lasting solutions — my Administration is committed to exploring innovative approaches — I’m confident we can get it done!”

Yet even after that tweet, internal confusion has been evident.

At a House energy subcommittee hearing two weeks ago, Mark W. Menezes, the president’s nominee for deputy energy secretary, prompted alarm at the White House when he said, “What we’re trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca.” After White House officials expressed concern, Mr. Menezes put out a statement saying that he fully supported Mr. Trump’s decision.

Whether that will be enough to reassure Nevadans about Mr. Trump’s intentions remains to be seen.

“Nevadans aren’t going to just forget that Trump spent the first three years of his administration trying to treat the state as a dumping site,” said Rebecca Kirszner Katz, a former adviser to Mr. Reid. “Donald Trump had an opportunity to be on the right side of a major issue in a huge battleground state, and he bungled it.”

Full disclosure: My own take is that nuclear waste exists, and we need to find some option for long term storage other than “temporary” casks on the shores of the Great Lakes and elsewhere. So here, I’m on the pro nuke side of moving this thing forward and getting it done before something really horrible happens.

6 Responses to “Donald Trump’s War on Nukes”

  1. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    Must be good if the idiot child is against it.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      HO-HO-HO! What’s NOT funny is that nuclear waste is a speck of dust in the eye compared to the coming sand storm of negative consequences due to fossil fuel burning, and the idiot child is doing all he can to keep us burniing them.

      Make Coal Great Again!

  2. Jim Torson Says:

    A couple years ago I attended the 3-day International Uranium Film Festival that was held in Window Rock, Arizona. This included films on the nuclear waste issue. The films on this subject made it clear that decades of work has failed to find a solution to this problem. In particular, I highly recommend the very well done film “Journey to the Safest Place on Earth.” You can watch the trailer for the film here:

    You can also watch the complete film for a small fee.

  3. Jim Torson Says:

    Las Vegas Sun:

    For millions of Americans, the science and safety of Yucca don’t add up
    By Mary Olson
    Sunday, March 26, 2017 | 2 a.m.
    For over 25 years, it has been my job at Nuclear Information and Resource Service to help people understand the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project and the fact that it will not isolate the worst waste ever made.

    Let’s be clear.: As a radioactive waste dump, Yucca is a sieve. It would first leak radioactive gases to the air, then would release contaminants into the groundwater.
    But Congress wrote the law to make sure that problem with leakage wouldn’t get in the way of developing the project. It told federal agencies to write new rules, special for Yucca, based only on water. NIRS and Public Citizen won a lawsuit in 2004 that forced the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the performance of the proposed project at the time it is expected to start leaking, instead of after an arbitrary 1,000 or 10,000 years from now.
    The projected leak rate from Yucca is so catastrophic that it required a work of science fiction to make the project look like it would meet the special water-only-standard: DOE theorizes that, 100 years out, the federal government would invest billions more dollars to install miles of titanium liners inside Yucca, using an unknown technology.
    As a biologist, I know that Yucca Mountain is the wrong answer for nuclear waste when everyone agrees that the dump to be built there will leak. All of the federal agencies involved know that Yucca will leak: the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and EPA. My goal as a life scientist is to keep radioactivity out of our environment.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Oh dear, oh dear, oh what a pile of shameful bullshit. The world will COOK and here is a biologist claiming expertise outside her field.
      ‘Let’s be clear.: As a radioactive waste dump, Yucca is a sieve. It would first leak radioactive gases to the air, then would release contaminants into the groundwater.’
      Let’s be told what ‘radioactive gases’ will be formed. That is a straight question!
      ‘These’ will escape sealed containers, under a mountain that being the point, and after the odd thousand years into the world which is all naturally radioactive.
      What groundwater in a desert mountain? Pure unconsidered criminal dogma. This is wrong!

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    Anyone who’s for reactors at the same time they accept the reality of physics, is for the production of more waste. (If A but not B, still C, but less-logically and -consciously.) We certainly need to do something with the waste but the current maladaptive electoral system makes local pandering in some states inevitable, and in some cases that works against national and world interest. Usually—as with corn ethanol—it’s due to the even more maladaptive political-economic system. Here it draws attention to Republican hypocrisy on states’ rights and government power.

    That hypocrisy reveals allegiance to other issues, the pattern of which George Lakoff has pointed out (Don’t Think of an Elephant) but now it’s being complicated by the idiosyncrasies of a dictator. If that identity takes over we’ll see the “hypocrisy” resolve, whether for a narcissist like il Duce, Amin, and il Drumpfe, a psychopath like Hitler, or a tough generous strategist (Hakomi Body Centered Psychotherapy) like Stalin.

    In the shift from Republic to Empire in Rome, the structural changes had mostly happened before Augustus came along and personalized, focused and institutionalized them. See Michael Parenti’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar. Our already-set up empire is more closely reflected by malignant narcissists, (a combination of Narcissistic and Anti-Social Personality Disorders) but once Trump is removed or dies, what follows may cause this or a different sort of tension to form between impulses. (Billionaire in one of those categories? Military/security junta? Continued veneer of democracy? All of the above?)

    The decisions made about energy in the US are idiosyncratic as well as horribly irrational. Changes that would help that are to politically and economically equalize, get rid of our 3-house small-state bias, effectively outlaw gerrymandering and vote suppression, make voting easy, more comprehensively recognize and treat emotional disturbance, eliminate psycho-active pollutants by transitioning to sustainable energy, industry, agriculture… (Heat, CO2, western diet, lead, mercury, and other fossil-fuel-caused pollutants all impair cognitive function).

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