The true future of nuclear power will lie between these two poles. There's no denying that nuclear power is potentially very dangerous, or that it has been proven to be a relatively reliable way to create clean energy. Which is why, more than any other energy technology, the fate of nuclear power will be shaped foremost by the beliefs of the global public.
Here's what I mean. After Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, there was a distinct decline in nuclear power production, especially in the United States. And that decline occurred for one reason: The public was widely afraid of the technology. Many took to protesting it; Greenpeace was born as an anti-nuclear activist group. And few investors were willing to step in and finance unpopular, potentially unreliable projects. Not-in-my-backyard outcry from regional groups scuttled even more projects.
It was just over the last decade or so that nuclear power appeared to be getting back on track; new plants were scheduled in the U.S. for the first time in decades. Europe was bringing more plants online, too.
But after Fukushima again revealed the dangers of nuclear power, the apparently resumed upwards trajectory was again thrown into doubt. Popular backlash led Germany to vow to shut down all of its nuclear reactors in coming years. A call for more regulation and investigations into current practices hit other countries, and brought uncertainty screaming back into the market.