Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the White House still supports construction of a planned repository for nuclear waste in Nevada, despite President Donald Trump’s suggestion over the weekend that he was reconsidering.
When asked if the Trump administration still supports Yucca Mountain, Perry swiftly said “Yes.”
“I’m making this presumption by looking at a budgeting process and there was money in the president’s budget to manage Yucca,” Perry said, after giving remarks at the department’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. Trump requested $120 million in his budget proposal for the geologic repository 90 miles north of Las Vegas.
“I’m going to follow the law. And the law says, ‘here are the things you’re going to do.’ Those have to be funded. And so, we’re following the law,” Perry said. “If Yucca is to be closed, then I’m sure that Congress will deal with it and I’ll follow their instructions.”
Trump told a Nevada television station he was reconsidering his support after campaigning last weekend with Senator Dean Heller, an embattled Republican senator who opposes the project and is in a tight re-election battle.
“I think you should do things where people want them to happen, so I would be very inclined to be against it,” Trump said in Oct. 20 interview with KRNV-News 4. “We will be looking at it very seriously over the next few weeks, and I agree with the people of Nevada.”
Asked whether Trump had changed his position on Yucca Mountain, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said: “I point you to where the president said he will be looking closely at this.”
Testifying before Congress in 2017, Perry said the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to build the project, which Congress designated in 1987 as the site to store the more than 70,000 metric tons of radioactive waste from the nation’s fleet of commercial reactors.
President Barack Obama’s administration cut funding for Yucca, saying it wasn’t a “workable option.”
House Republicans have since sought to revive the project.
Perry also addressed the administration’s efforts to help unprofitable coal and nuclear plants and indicated the department is not backing down from its full-throated support of the plan, following a report the efforts had been shelved amid opposition from within the White House.
“Nothing’s changed on my side of things,” Perry said. “We think that a coal and nuclear based foundation for our grid is really important.”