This represents a societal epistemological bankruptcy. Epistemology refers to the process by which we know what we know; and currently most of the ways we know about energy issues, about nuclear power, about fossil fuels and about the climate crisis are in a deeper crisis than the reactors in Fukushima. A confluence of developments has meant that a sane conversation on energy issues appears difficult to impossible for our society to manage. Lack of reasonable discussion leads to avoidance of the topic by politicians and the general public, which then means that powerful interests make these decisions almost by fiat -- and this often translates into "carry on as before."
Behavioral research increasingly confirms what one might suspect: when confronted with a long-term catastrophic problem which requires short-term unpleasant consequences, many people will try to avoid making a decision altogether even if it makes the problem worse over the long run. Complexity of information and choices, too, creates avoidance behavior. Avoidance, however comforting, only makes matters worse.
The Cost of "Carry-on As Before"
To take a concrete example of the dangers of avoiding real discussions about existing problems, let's look at the root cause of the current crisis in Fukushima: loss of water in the spent fuel rod pools. Needing to keep these rods in constantly cycling water is one of the least safe ways to handle spent fuel. There are newer, safer designs, but that would require rebuilding old plants or building new ones, something the public does not want to countenance. Thus, we continue to operate the least-safe designs we have.
Further, spent-fuel rod pools in Fukushima were located on the upper floors of the plant, above the reactor. Let's step back and think for a moment. Imagine you have some goldfish in a jar. Where do you place the jar? Not high up, unless your fish have mortally offended you (made funny faces at you?). You'd keep your jar of fish somewhere level, low, and hopefully away from other obvious sources of danger, like, say, nuclear reactors.
So, why, then, is spent fuel stored in a pool in an upper floor? Because it's a patch, not a solution. Spent fuel was not supposed to be kept in the nuclear power plants for years, as is now routinely done everywhere in the world. Remember the debate about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository where spent fuel is supposed to be permanently stored? Years of political wrangling have led to inaction on that front. I make this point not to argue whether the Yucca repository was the best option; however, lack of action or active exploration of alternatives means that we have 33 states which have at least one site where nuclear waste is stored in the plant, often right next to the reactors.
Well, then, can't we at least keep nuclear waste safer in the plants? In the case of Fukushima, this wasn't done because, while the expenses are roughly equal over time, it costs more upfront to build safer, concrete casements outside the plant. Spending money over time is easier than a one-time large expense, even if the latter is safer, because the former option allows us to avoid the conversation. This situation prevails in many places in the United States, too.