I appreciate your responses. I have heard that the fact that they've detected cesium is a strong indication that there has been a meltdown to some extent--is that the case or is it possible that it would be produced through less-catastrophic problems?
I think this does make a good argument for nuclear energy in a weird way if it ends reasonably well--plants are getting safer all the time, but even with older plants in the non-Soviet (i.e. better designed for safety) world, the worst two incidents ever (TMI and this) will hopefully have fairly small repurcusions, especially when you compare them to incidents with coal or oil. We still need to wait and make sure this does end as well as it can now, because that's not a given, but seems like it's very likely.
I do think it's human nature to have a hard time internally computing maximum likelihoods--something huge and unlikely to harm you is often more terrifying and influences behavior more than something smaller but more likely to harm. A second reason this has a great impact is that we're selfish--I think a lot of people have an easier time accepting disasters that happen to people at risk for them. Even though we're emotionally moved by them, tragedies with coal miners don't scare the average consumer about coal, so our usage/political support isn't as influenced. Those aren't arguments against what you're saying at all, though, quite the opposite, it's an encouragement to keep saying it.