Yucca 2025 • Nevada Current

Some Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives went full-on blast-from-the-past last week, re-upping the idea of putting the nation’s nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

And so at a Senate Energy Committee hearing Tuesday, Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto had U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm confirm yet again that nope, the Biden administration has zero interest in or intention of reviving the waste dump siting process at any time or in any way shape or form, and not a single penny of Biden’s recently proposed budget is allocated to do that.

Well alrighty then, or words to that effect, said Cortez Masto, whose office then promptly issued a press release quoting her exchange with Granholm.

But there is the sinister possibility that voters in Nevada and other battleground states will elect an old, addled megalomaniac hell-bent on personal gratification via lawless authoritarian vengeance as president of the United States in 2024, because prices are higher now than they were in 2019. (Those voters will be extra-bummed later when 2019 prices still don’t come back.)

In other words, Trump, not Biden, might be president next year.

Trump was for the Yucca Mountain waste dump before he was against it. Fortunately, his administration, administratively, if you will, was in large part an exercise in incompetence and chaos. For the nation and its people, Trump “administration” blundering and ineffectiveness was probably, on balance, for the best.

As you may have heard there is now a sprawling Trump administration-in-waiting, sort of a shadow government, composed of lavishly funded organizations dedicated to avoiding a repeat of the administrative omnishambles that characterized Trump’s first occupation of the White House. 

Instead, this time, if there is one, they want to stack Trump’s administration with thousands of aspiring future federal employees currently being trained to be ready, willing – and maybe even able – to concentrate power in the White House, which will brush aside federal agencies and the authorities currently bestowed on those agencies by Congress and the courts.

The founders were so hot for “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” they entrenched those doctrines in the Constitution. But the groups hoping to write and carry out policy for a second Trump term feel that everything would be much better if Trump is allowed to rule as the all-powerful law unto himself he clearly already believes he is.

The army of right-wing ideologues who aspire to displace “deep state” expertise with expertise all their own are the product of dozens of groups, but the effort is spearheaded by the once-respectable (more or less) Heritage Foundation and its “Project 2025 Presidential Transition Project.”

“It is not enough for conservatives to win elections,” reads a statement on the project’s homepage. “We need both a governing agenda and the right people in place, ready to carry this agenda out on Day One of the next conservative Administration.”

(For the record, Trump and his movement are a lot of things. “Conservative” isn’t one of them.) 

There is also a Project 2025 coloring book for Trumpy wonks. Just kidding. It’s an 887-page policy agenda outlining dozens and dozens of specific things a new Trump administration should start undertaking “on Day One” (aka the same day Trump says he will be “a dictator”).

One of those things: “Restart Yucca Mountain Licensing.” 

Maybe House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rogers (R-WA) had that part of the Project 2025 playbook in mind when she and her committee got whipped up about Yucca last week.

Along with restarting Yucca licensing, Project 2025’s to-do list includes making the Department of Energy “work with” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on licensing the dump.

The NRC is – by design – an independent agency. A president appoints commissioners to fill vacancies, but the NRC’s decisions and rulings and practices are supposed to be based on science, not politics or ideology.

Project 2025 really, really dislikes independent regulatory agencies. Independent regulatory agencies making evidence-based decisions instead of ideologically driven ones aren’t what Trumpism is about. 

Trump also loathes independent regulatory agencies, and is vowing to bring them under his perfectly normal sized thumb.

When Trump’s very own deep state in the wings says “work with” – as in working with the NRC on Yucca licensing, for example – it means control.

(There is even concern that Trump would “work with” the Federal Reserve. And yes, the prospect of Trump setting interest rates gives the markets the willies.)

Low-hanging isotopes?

Despite the Biden administration’s push for more nuclear power as part of its all-of-the-above energy policy, the nuclear “renaissance” that has been promised so many times over the years remains a pipe dream. Nationally and globally, nuclear power today is the same it’s been for at least the last three decades, an energy source in decline.

The Yucca dump has been all but dead for most of the current century, thanks to a combination of the late Harry Reid’s clout and Nevada’s status as a presidential battleground state. For a lot of Nevada voters, especially ones who’ve moved here more recently, the waste dump might not be the political motivator it traditionally has been for the state’s electorate.

And bringing thousands of tons of radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants to Nevada is not the most dire consequence if Project 2025’s priorities were adopted and carried out in a second Trump administration. 

Laced with white Christian nationalism, misogyny, and hostility, other Project 2025 priorities include but are not limited to banning abortion nationally, and harshly discriminatory anti-LGBTQ policies. 

As sociologist and national treasure Theda Scocpol put it recently, the extremist would-be Trump administration in waiting would implement “detailed plans to take full control of various federal departments and agencies from the very start and to use every power available to implement radical ethnonationalist regulations and action plans.”

For Project 2025, architect of the extremist judicial system Leonard Leo, and the other powerful interests and people plotting policies for a second Trump term, forcing nuclear waste on Nevada is a second-tier priority, at best. 

But that’s a thing about lower-tier goals. They’re usually the easiest to achieve.

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