Far be it from us to contribute to media-fueled fear, but recent developments in Japan have made some reconsider the safety of nuclear power--or give it more thought than they ever had.
The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the tsunamis that hit last week damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, run by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). The utility has been struggling to prevent a possible meltdown and release of high-level radiation, and the emergency has caused some people to flee Tokyo.
As helicopters took to the skies to douse the Fukushima reactors with water, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Administration raised its severity rating of the crisis from level 4 to level 5 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. That brings it on par with the Three Mile Island accident, which forced an evacuation of thousands and cost an estimated $1 billion to clean up.
The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report this week about 14 "near-misses" at nuclear facilities in the United States in 2010 and describing "troubling events, safety equipment problems, and security shortcomings." The report gives the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission a mixed review as a watchdog of nuclear safety, saying, for instance, that commission inspectors knew about problems with testing at the Peach Bottom nuclear facility in Pennsylvania but did not respond properly.
President Obama also ordered a review of the nation's 104 reactors, which supply about 20 percent of electricity to the U.S. (see a map of commercial reactors here). German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meanwhile, has ordered the closure of seven older nuclear plants for safety inspections.
Are you worried about nuclear power, or do you think fears are overblown? Do you have faith in plant designers, operators, and overseers, or do you just picture Homer Simpson when the topic comes up? Vote in our poll, and be sure to share your thoughts on this difficult topic in the comments section.