Two events drastically altered the public perception of nuclear energy: the Chernobyl incident and the smaller disaster of Three Mile Island. Current events in Japan are only compounding the problem. People consider nuclear reactors targets for terrorist attacks and believe that nuclear reactors are constantly at risk of meltdown, even though, when properly maintained, that risk is very low. Another issue is waste disposal: once the fissile material has been exhausted, the next question is where to put it. No one, to date, has been particularly keen on storing nuclear waste in their own backyards. Between the perceived risks of accidents and the waste question, nuclear energy has become an unpopular solution in energy policy.
The massive amount of risk involved is a huge problem. One major incident such as an attack or accidental release of radiation could be catastrophic for thousands, possibly millions of people. The Chernobyl incident spread radiactive material over all of Europe and, to a lesser degree, worldwide. The people nearest to it were affected significantly and some died soon after. The immediate area near the reactors is currently uninhabitable by humans.
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