Short and sweet -- and directly on point.
As I write, the dead-and-missing tally stands at 28,000. The death toll from radiation leaks? Zero. (Two workers were found dead on the site, but are believed to have died of injuries sustained in the earthquake.)
It's easy to find alarmist stories about radiation leaks from the Fukushima plants -- Google away; take your pick -- but fewer that put the incident into any sort of perspective. The Wall Street Journal, to its credit, was quick, as in its piece "Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl," published just three days after the quake.
It took the Washington Post three weeks, but they eventual published a sober article contrasting the health risks of nuclear with other means of generating electricity. See: "Nuclear power is safest way to make electricity, according to study." A choice quote: "In the months after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, in Chernobyl in 1986, about 50 people died. In the next-biggest accident, at Three Mile Island in 1979, no one did."
The highly condensed version:
- mining coal and drilling for petroleum are dangerous. In its coal-mining article, Wikipedia indicates ~30 deaths/year in the US -- and sometimes as high as 6,000/year in China. (They mine a LOT of coal in China.)
- Burning coal leads to deaths among the public from pollution. Many more fatalities can be attributed to burning coal (e.g., deaths from asthma attacks and emphysema) than to radiation leaks.
How much technology would we have without reliable sources of electricity? How much prosperity?
Not everyone has had a near-jerk "nukes are bad" reaction. Environmental activist George Monbiot reached the opposite lesson in his think piece, "Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power."
I hope his open mind is contagious. Because if the lesson of the Sendai quake is "no nukes" and the lesson of the BP oil-platform explosion is "no offshore drilling" and the lesson of the next disaster is "no XYZ" ... pretty soon we'll all be fuming in the dark.