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LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to reverse his position on a proposal to create a national nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada after his administration tried for several years to revive the mothballed project.
“Nevada, I hear you on Yucca Mountain and my Administration will RESPECT you!” Trump said in a tweet. “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!”
Adam Laxalt, Trump’s Republican re-election campaign chief in Nevada, said he believed the president was expressing support for opponents of the project, which was first proposed in the 1980s to entomb 77,000 tons (70,000 metric tons) of the nation’s most highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel in tunnels under an ancient volcanic ridge northwest of Las Vegas.
Laxalt, a former state attorney general, fought federal efforts to resume work at the site using a wide range of objections revolving around safety, security and science.
Yucca Mountain was among topics he said he discussed with the president last weekend at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida. Laxalt on Thursday tweeted thanks to Trump, saying, “We are so fortunate that you listened to us."
“I know others have been speaking with him about Yucca Mountain,” Laxalt told The Associated Press. “We don’t support it. It’s not good for the state.”
Trump administration officials and Nevada’s congressional delegation did not immediately have details to share about the president’s new position.
The U.S. Department of Energy referred questions about the president’s tweet to the White House. The White House referred questions to the Office of Management and Budget, which did not immediately respond.
State officials have argued that seismic activity and nearby Air Force testing would make the site about 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Las Vegas unsuitable to safely store radioactive material from elsewhere in the U.S.
Nevada is a political swing state that Trump lost in 2016. His re-election campaign is targeting Nevada in 2020 as a battleground state it hopes to capture.
As a presidential candidate, Trump was ambiguous about the Yucca Mountain project. Once he took office, his administration included requests for money to revive federal licensing for the project in his budget proposals, though Nevada’s congressional delegation successfully fought to keep the funding out of the budget.
Nevada’s senior senator, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a tweet that she looks forward to working with the president on the “critical issue for Nevada” and ensuring Trump’s budget “doesn’t include any funding to restart the failed Yucca Mountain project that a majority of Nevadans reject, regardless of party.”
Ryan King, a spokesman for Cortez Masto, said the senator’s office had not heard from the White House about the president’s new position before Trump’s tweet appeared.
Nevada’s Democratic members of Congress welcomed the news but at least one expressed skepticism about whether Trump would follow through and abandon a push for the project.
“They say if you can’t beat them, join them,” said Rep. Dina Titus. “President Trump tried to shove nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain down our throats for three years. We beat him badly – three times in a row - and he knows it."
“The hard work of the #Nevada Delegation has clearly put pressure on the White House, as evidenced by the President’s newfound commitment to finding alternatives,” Rep. Steven Horsford tweeted.
Nevada's Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said he welcomed the announcement and looks forward to seeing no funding for the Yucca Mountain project in Trump's budget proposal expected next week.
Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada's sole Republican in Congress, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Mary Love, a spokeswoman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based nuclear power advocacy group, said she could not speculate on the president’s tweet but said “the political stalemate over used fuel remains an unfortunate reality.”
“The government has failed to meet it’s legal obligation to take possession of used fuel and this abdication is costing U.S. taxpayers,” Love said in a statement. “We remain committed to development of a consolidated storage facility in parallel with the licensing and operation of a permanent geological repository.”
Associated Press reporters Darlene Superville and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.
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