In The Public Interest:Tragedy in Japan a Terrifying Reminder of the Risks of Nuclear Power

03/19/2011 02:07 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

At U.S. PIRG, we are struck with grief and deep concern as we watch events unfold in Japan. Based on recent news coverage and President Obama'a remarks on Thursday, significant releases of radioactivity have already occurred and more are possible.

On Thursday, President Obama took the obvious first step by calling on the "Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan."

Nuclear power is inherently dangerous. That's why there are redundant safeguards at every plant. But even the best planners can't predict every contingency, as events in Japan are starkly demonstrating. There are no guarantees that an accident of the type couldn't happen here in the United States. There are countless combinations of acts of nature or man, that could fuel a crisis at any nuclear reactor in the United States.

Like the Fukushima reactors, all 104 U.S. reactors rely on backup cooling systems powered by diesel generators and batteries with limited lifespan. Twenty-three nuclear reactors in the United States are the exact same design as the Fukushima plant. All nuclear plants in the U.S. have spent fuel pools on site.

More than 108 million Americans that live within 50 miles of an active nuclear power facility, the radius American officials have urged Americans to evacuate in Japan. The towns of Charlotte, NC, Reading, PA and Omaha, NE along with hundreds of other smaller towns are in the 12-mile radius of a nuclear reactor, which is the area the Japanese government has evacuated.

There is no known safe level of exposure to radiation, which can cause health problems from leukemia to cancer. Even after a nuclear power plant shuts down, spent fuel remains. There is no safe and permanent storage solution for spent fuel, which remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years.

The crisis at the nuclear plants in Japan underscores the dangers of nuclear power and the fact that no reactor is fail safe. As we decide our energy future, we must decide if we are willing to have a situation like Fukushima happen here in the United States. And if the answer to that question is no, our country has no choice but to reject nuclear power.