Many researchers believe that harnessing the power of the atom in fission reactions is the most significant alternative energy resource that we have, for the fact of the immense power that it can generate.
Nuclear power plants are very “clean-burning” and their efficiency is rather staggering. Nuclear power is generated at 80% efficiency, meaning that the energy produced by the fission reactions is almost equal to the energy put into producing the fission reactions in the first place. There is not a lot of waste material generated by nuclear fission—although, due to the fact that there is no such thing as creating energy without also creating some measure of waste, there is some. The concerns of people such as environmentalists with regards to using nuclear power as an alternative energy source center around this waste, which is radioactive gases which have to be contained.
The radiation from these gases lasts for an extraordinarily long time, so it can never be released once contained and stored. However, the volume of this waste gas produced by the nuclear power plants is small in comparison to how much NOx (nitrous oxide—that is, air pollution) is caused by one day's worth of rush-hour traffic in Los Angeles. While the radiation is certainly the more deadly by far of the two waste materials, the radiation is also by far the easier of the two to contain and store. In spite of the concerns of the environmentalists, nuclear power is actually environmentally friendly alternative energy, and the risk of the contained radiation getting out is actually quite low. With a relatively low volume of waste material produced, it should not be a difficult thing at all for storage and disposal solutions for the long term to be developed as technology advances.
The splitting of an atom releases energy in the forms of both heat and light. Atomic power plants control the fission reactions so that they don't result in the devastating explosions that are brought forth in atomic and hydrogen bombs. There is no chance of an atomic power plant exploding like a nuclear bomb, as the specialized conditions and the pure Plutonium used to unleash an atomic bomb's vicious force simply don't exist inside a nuclear power plant. The risk of a “meltdown” is very low. Although this latter event has happened a couple of times, when one considers that there are over 430 nuclear reactors spread out across 33 nations, and that nuclear reactors have been in use since the early 1950s, these are rare occurrences, and the events of that nature which have taken place were the fault of outdated materials which should have been properly kept up. Indeed, if nuclear energy could become a more widely accepted form of alternative energy, there would be little question of their upkeep being maintained. Currently, six states in America generate more than half of all their electrical energy needs through nuclear power, and the media are not filled with gruesome horror stories of the power plants constantly having problems.