How much radiation is coming out of the plant, anyway? Last I heard it was .003 Sv/h at worst. You don't start getting general fatalities until you reach around 2 Sv (here, about four weeks of exposure). Less than 2 Sv is likely to cause illness such as vomiting, hair loss, and diarrhea, but very rarely fatal on its own. Less than .5 Sv (about a week of exposure) is considered not serious but might cause some symptoms. Less than .1 Sv (33 hours of exposure) doesn't significantly alter your body's chemistry. The regulatory maximum yearly dose for a worker in the plant is .05 Sv (17 hours of exposure), which is the amount the Japanese believe prevents anything bad from happening at all, even increased cancer risk.
As to the Chernobyl Disaster, thirty one people died within three months, almost all of them either responders to or workers at the plant. Two hundred and thirty seven died within ten years. At least two thousand plus Japanese are confirmed dead right now, to put that in perspective. Regardless, the amount of radiation being given off was also much, much worse. About a hundred thousand times worse at the core, and about six to seven thousand times worse at its outlying buildings. Further, the reactor has a containment structure, and uses water rather than graphite (water cannot catch on fire like graphite can), so again it won't be anywhere near as bad.
It is not a non-accident, but it is not worthy of the amount of attention it's getting in the middle of the deadliest earthquake since the Yushu Earthquake last year.
The trouble with Nuclear Power is that, on the one hand, the Republicans are not overly concerned by oil and coal and gas, and on the other, Democrats are more concerned with the Environmentalists and Environmentalism (portions of which are sustained on blind faith alone, including most of their anti-nuclear beliefs) than energy independence. Whatever else Bush may have done, he began making four new nuclear power plants, which is more impressive if you consider they are the first to be built in thirty years or so.
As a side-problem, there is more regulation about nuclear engineering than any other kind of engineering. This isn't necessarily a problem, but nuclear engineering is not the highest (nor among the highest) paid kind of engineering nor is their a wide range of applications. Plus, if you're a nuclear engineer, you basically work for the government or in an environment so regulated you might as well be. This is not an environment that attracts talent, and talented engineers are necessary to improve an industry. In contrast, oil/whatever you want to call them engineers are basically shoehorned into one industry, but are paid ridiculously well even by engineering standards. They also don't have anywhere near the restrictions on them that a nuclear engineer does.