Nuclear power produces a tad less than 20% of our nation's electricity, and there has been no new construction on a nuclear power plant in the US since the late 1970's. Two things keep the US from moving toward what many consider (me among them) to be a no-brainer solution to at least PART of our coming energy nightmare--the storage of nuclear waste, and the availability of capital for the considerable costs associated with building a nuclear power plant (once built, nuclear is a comparatively cheap source of energy.
The capital problem will begin to solve itself when the current financial crisis abates. Additionally, the Obama Administration missed a golden opportunity to guarantee the creation of thousands of high paying jobs in the nuclear power industry by not standing behind nuclear construction in its stimulus package. Interestingly enough, the President's proposed "Cap and Trade" system for penalizing greenhouse gas producers will go a long way to changing the economics of nuclear power, making coal and natural gas comparatively more expensive when the costs of carbon mitigation are factored in (nuclear is carbon-neutral).
More troubling however is the nuclear waste issue. This one should have been solved a decade ago, when the Yucca Mountain Repository was to be opened. We're now $7B into the construction of the nation's planned long term repository for spent nuclear fuel, and the President just de-funded it in his latest budget blueprint. Why? Because as a candidate for President, he pandered to the people of Nevada and their charlatan of a Senator (Reid) by supporting a closure of Yucca Mountain--all the while continuing to hedge on nuclear energy because of the problems with long-term storage. The recently turned Democrat voters of Nevada feel "unsafe" with the storage of spent nuclear fuel thousands of feet below the earth's surface, high above the water table, in one of the country's most geologically stable locations--while the rest of the country sucks it up as spent fuel accumulates in local storage on the grounds of the 104 operating reactors distributed throughout the country (near actual population centers, as opposed to 2 hrs from Vegas in the middle of nowhere).
Adding to this problem is the fact that what we call "waste" the French call "fuel". Why? Because the French re-process their uranium several times over and re-use it in their reactors (creating "waste" at the end of the process that is far less in mass than what we have to store, and far less radioactive). We do not do this, mostly out of a fear of "do as I say, not as I do"--because we don't want others to re-process--as re-processing has the potential to create weapons grade plutonium proliferation issues.
We should immediately consider a program of fuel reprocessing in this country--maintaining safeguards and leading the world in counter-proliferation. And we should put Yucca Mountain on the path to opening within the next ten years.
Given that the country's electrical demands will sky-rocket in the coming years, we will need to build out the country's electrical infrastructure--including additional generating capacity. Nuclear is a big part of that equation, and we'll never get there as long as the President and the majority leader close their ears to the truth.