The nightmare which is unfolding in Japan has gotten far worse, at a near-constant rate, since the story broke on Friday. Despite strict attempts to quell fears by the Japanese Government and worldwide media, fresh reports keep coming in of more terrifying developments.

Several power plants now considered at risk in the growing nuclear crisis, and reports are now coming in that it could be a year before the reactors are all fully “shut down”. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 180 000 have been evacuated. While the Japanese Government and mainstream media keep claiming that radiation levels have dropped, a US Military helicopter recently recorded radioactivity 60 miles away. Fresh threats from aftershocks and tsunamis have everyone on edge and another hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima Daichi No. 3 reactor and exposure of fuel rods in the No 2 reactor were briefly totally exposed.

Proponents of nuclear power are now seriously on the defensive. Using terms like “fear-mongering” and “apocalyptic”, they’re blasting anyone who dares suggest that this crisis is a threat. The media is being attacked for daring to raise the specter of Chernobyl or and accused of voyeuristic sensationalism no matter how hard they work to downplay the situation. Based on this downplaying (such as the nearly hourly waves of “crisis averted” stories), they berate anyone who dares suggest otherwise. At the centre of this is argument is the great nuclear straw-man: a “worst-case scenario” where Japan is blown clear into orbit and two thirds of the planet dies immediately of every form of cancer we have. As long as this doesn’t happen, no matter what does will be considered a “victory”, and nuclear naysayers will have been “proven wrong”.

Even if these plants don’t completely melt down, this will still have been one of the worst nuclear disasters in history, and it’s still far from over. It can take years for cancer to develop, official inquiries to come together and medical studies to come to conclusions. We still don’t really know how many people died as a result of Chernobyl – some say fifty, others say two hundred thousand or more. To write off fears in Japan this soon is like writing the conclusion to a true crime novel five minutes after an assault, before anyone knows whether the victim will survive.

Many are now suggesting a freeze on new nuclear development and an incredible backlash is growing against the nuclear industry. The Swiss, Americans and Germans have all began to shy away from their recent expansion plans. With hopes of a global “nuclear renaissance”, the industry may now face a brutal fight to survive at all. This crisis simply raises too many questions to overlook about safety, even in the wealthiest industrialized nations, and they are not likely to soon go away. It took three decades for the industry to begin to shake the terrifying legacy of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – will this be the third and final strike?