By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House’s fiscal 2018 budget plan for the U.S. Department of Energy includes $120 million to restart licensing for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada, a project stalled for years by lawsuits and local opposition.
The move signals that President Donald Trump may consider the site as a solution to extending the lives of existing U.S. nuclear power plants that have been hobbled by a lack of places to get rid of their spent nuclear fuel.
"These investments would accelerate progress on fulfilling the federal government's obligations to address nuclear waste, enhance national security, and reduce future taxpayer burden," according to a summary of the budget proposal.
Yucca Mountain has been studied by the U.S. government since the 1970s as a potential repository for the nation's radioactive waste and billions of dollars have been spent on the project.
But it has never opened for business because of legal challenges and widespread opposition from local politicians, environmentalists and Native American groups.
In 2010, then-President Barack Obama withdrew the license to store waste at Yucca amid opposition from then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.
Trump's energy secretary, Rick Perry, a former Texas governor, told lawmakers at his confirmation hearing that restarting the Yucca Mountain project could not be ruled out, but that he would collaborate with states.
"I am very aware that this is an issue this country has been flummoxed by for 30 years. We have spent billions of dollars on this issue," Perry told the hearing in January. "I’ll work closely with you and the members of this committee to find the answers to this issue."
The White House proposal for the Department of Energy budget calls for an overall cut of 5.6 percent, which would include the elimination of some research programs.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Peter Cooney)