America has the ability to meet 100% of its power needs without using a drop of oil or single chunk of coal. But for reasons that defy common sense, and just a bit of intelligence, Americans seem horribly averse to the idea of building nuclear power plants. Worse, some Americans are trying to close down the ones we have!
At some time in the future I feel certain science will come up with a cheap way to convert sunlight into electric power. But for the forseeable future, that is not going to happen. The technology we have right now simply does not allow for such a conversion to a level that will make a dent in our power demands. The closest we come is a giant photo-voltaic site in New Mexico that is attempting to meet some west coast demands, but it falls far short of supplying enough power to one city let alone a region. Even more, of course, it is only effective during daylight hours.
America has done a good job creating hydro-electric power but we are about maxed out in that area. Wind farms a popping up but again, the limiting factor is the number of wind turbines needed and how much power they can actually supply. Sadly, that too is a very small number.
The power we can obtain from the atom is virtually limitless. It is the most efficient and environmentally friendly power source we have today. People somehow seem to equate the way power is generated from the atom to the atomic bomb. They are only remotely alike, and that is only in the sense that they both using fissionable material. But the similarity ends there.
Almost since its inception, atomic power has been the safest source of energy on earth. Considering the many thousands of nuclear plants that exist around the globe today, there has been only one event where a nuclear meltdown created a danger to the health of local inhabitants, Chernobyl. The incident in Japan last year was not a meltdown. It was the result of a confluence of events that are so rare the associated risk seemed manageable. I can assure you, future nuclear planning will take into account what happened in Japan. In the U.S. we had Three Mile Island. For those of you who do not remember, that was a case where there was an actual reactor meltdown. But American safety standards were, and are, so stringent that during and immediately following that meltdown the ambient radiation in the Three Mile Island area did not change one iota. That is, there was no measurable radiation coming from the plant itself which left only that radiation generated by the sun. To put this in perspective, a person sun bathing next to Three Mile Island at the time of the meltdown would definitely have suffered from radiation sickness with a day long exposure. That sickness would have come entirely from the sun, just as it does from lack of protection from a day at any beach in the world.
The other big objection to nuclear power seems to be that of what to do with the nuclear waste. Right now all such waste is kept at the nuclear plant that produces it. Why? Because no one wants the trains going through their back yards that would carry such waste to the Utah mountains where it would be disposed of. Have you ever seen the rail car specifically designed from the transportation of such material? I have. You could explode a rather large bomb beneath one of these cars and the integrity of the container would not be compromised! Why then, do people think a rail accident in their back yard would put them in danger? Fear, which is simply a euphemism for ignorance.
The last objection to such facilities is that they have a very specific lifetime, after which the container become too brittle to allow for continued safe energy production. That happens because the radiation emitted by all nuclear plants within their containment facilities reacts with the metals surrounding them. This reaction slowly degrades, and of course contaminates, the containers. But like the spent nuclear rods themselves, these materials can be safely transported to a permanent storage facility.
What people do not seem to realize is that every day millions of gallons of highly toxic material passes by their houses every day in both rail cars and trucks. The amount of care in such transportation, while substantial, is still far less than that for nuclear materials. And the hell of it is, people do not seem bothered much at all when accidents involving one of these materials happens.
If Americans want to enjoy the good life, as they have in the past, they are going to have to allow for things to happen In Their Back Yard and stop saying, Not In My Back Yard!