Let us note: EVERYONE is exposed to radiation every single day. The increased radiation suffered by people at the plant so far is comparable to the increased radiation people are exposed to by living in cities at higher elevations. The plant in question was 40 years old and designed to withstand earthquakes of one fifth of the strength of the one that occurred and yet the current sum of the consequences of the mess is structural damage and relatively inconsequential health damage. To be sure, the health damage to the handful of people involved is probably a real source for concern for them but the total damage to human health is less than a *single* car crash. If a car crashed in Malaysia and several people were injured or killed we would not be talking about banning cars in Canada or preparing for a car-less future because of it - let us take the same stance with nuclear power. Obviously it is critical to take very significant precautions when dealing with something as potentially dangerous as nuclear power but the lesson we should take away from Fukushima is that we have and can manage that risk to our benefit.
A good way to look at the dangers of various sources of energy is to consider how many deaths there are for each Terawatt hour (TWh) of electricity they provide. This link has a bunch of details, but here are the highlights for those curious:
Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh) Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity) Coal – China 278 Coal – USA 15 Oil 36 (36% of world energy) Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy) Biofuel/Biomass 12 Peat 12 Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy) Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy) Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy) Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead) Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)
That's right, nuclear is safer than anything. Of course, this is based off of a history of pretty extreme safety levels, barring Chernobyl, and if a giant reactor were to blow up in the worst possible fashion it could kill an awful lot of people. However, we should always keep in mind that the WHO estimates that 1 million people a year die from the particulates in the atmosphere introduced by coal power. If nuclear was comparably dangerous then it would be killing approximately 100,000 people a year. For nuclear to be worse than coal over the past 25 years a nuclear accident would have to kill 2.5 million people. That is absolutely beyond belief; even Chernobyl only killed 30 people directly. There are varying reports as to the eventual death toll of course. The nuclear industry likes to report the 30 direct deaths, Greenpeace estimates 270,000 deaths from its own internal report and actual governing bodies all seem to agree on something like 4000. I am inclined to believe the UN and the WHO over Greenpeace or the nuclear industry since of those 3 groups only one doesn't have a vested interest in exaggeration and hyperbole one way or the other.
The bottom line is that people can die from all kinds of things. Falling out of bed kills more people per year than nuclear power does by a huge margin, not to mention car crashes, alcohol poisoning, or nearly any other source of deaths you can name. We should respect the potential danger of nuclear power and take appropriate precautions. Fear is not a rational response here; the key word is respect.