Late-era Victorians were afraid of that newfangled electricity. Our latter-day Luddites may not be so much afraid as against any clean source of energy that doesn’t involve wind or solar power, but they spread this kind of irrational fear.
Don’t get me wrong: I have a healthy respect for radiation; I’ve seen the training films of Hiroshima victims, as well as the infamous SL-1 accident in Idaho. And I’ve been around some very hot (radiation and thermal) reactors.
No one should dismiss the potential for harm. But absent an actual nuclear explosion (not possible for these reactors) or radioactive plume of fission products, a la Chernobyl, the biggest worry remains the possibility of latent cancer fatalities, meaning radiation-induced cancers that might manifest in 20 or more years.
Finally, let’s be careful of making glib comparisons between what’s happening in Japan with Chernobyl. That design was an abomination from a safety viewpoint, and it failed catastrophically for a variety of reasons, starting with a primitive Russian design which could not be licensed here or in Japan.
We must not let irrational fear drive our energy policy. We must not take nuclear power off the table, for in its place will be (largely) imported oil and coal. The former is unattractive for policy reasons; the latter because it comes with the deaths of miners.