It is easy enough to get a big public outcry for any new nuclear plant, irrespective of its safety.
Yes including pro bono activists who will provide materials, come to your town and help organize opposition. It was not always this way.
First an interesting side trip. Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring introduced Americans to the vision of a dead planet, but it was actually Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book The Population Bomb that really set the stage for doomsday thinking. This bestseller (200 million copies) was not for everyone, but the predictions were vivid and awful. In hindsight, it grossly underestimated our ability to scale agriculture and feed more people over time, and (foolishly) exaggerated the scenario where so-called '3rd world' women living in poverty and hunger will persist in having 5+ children. Hans Rosling demonstrates nicely that it is excess child mortality (not family beliefs) that contributes to this, and once health improves women desire (on average 2-3.5) children.
But if you're an American intellectual in 1968, you would have gotten a sense of foreboding that people would soon overrun the Earth. Mostly dem Indiaafricachina people
In 1972 the UN Club of Rome commissioned a report from MIT, "Limits to Growth" (full text). It sold 12 million copies in 37 languages. This is an amazing piece of work, one of the first uses of computerized models. In it some of the doomsday assumptions made in Population Bomb was deftly woven with projections of food and energy resources to create projections. It also was the first popularized presentation that CO2 would directly increase global temperature.
The Internet has a lot of tinfoil crap floating around about Club of Rome (and yes they are creepy) but it helps rationally not think of Limits to Growth as some secret Illuminati document. It was merely a widely bestselling book at the time. It even "recommended" the adoption of nuclear energy.
I put recommended in scare-quotes because that's exactly what they did. Let's all turn to page 73. Nuclear will solve CO2... that's great. But then they launch into a warning about waste heat from nuclear plants disrupting aquatic life, which is a purely local and manageable phenomenon, why nuclear plants are sited on rivers not lakes. Swans love it. They then go full frontal thermodynamics on cities themselves as emitters of heat, as if we're living in a Dyson Sphere and this is something we should be worrying about today Interspersed with graphs of ever-escalating nuclear waste. Which --- according to a propaganda rule I call "The Frightened Animals of Bambi's Forest Flee In Terror" -- could never be somehow contained, burned completely, or managed properly (by default!). A bit on industrial and municipal pollution, lead is mentioned, glad that shit was stopped, then... we're off into a evisceration of DDT. Yes, even modern agriculture ills.
It's easy to imagine a young ~35 Jane Fonda scared to death by all this. You have to realize that the popular doomsday bestseller with its Malthusian warnings is a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries industrial progress yielded direct and awe-inspiring improvements to life. Go ahead, flick a light on and run water from the tap, flush the toilet. I'll wait. By 1970 in the US this blessed infrastructure had become all but transparent.
Leaving us the time and luxury to live in the present. And develop new ideas such as the ugly brand of environmentalism that fails to "run the numbers" or imagines fewer people (job wanted: future Pol Pots) ... and would seek to reduce our modern quality of life, or divert us from innovation and species-evolution. When applied it can be a really malicious idea.
But for many, dissatisfaction with Viet Nam and the government, the dreary looming threat of nuclear war and (unfairly, by association) a growing distrust in the Cold War's nephew, the civilian nuclear program --- reflected a general unease with atoms.
Interesting times. Take a look at this fascinating historic Shah of Iran advertisement for the US nuclear industry and try to fit it into the context of the early 1970s. The 1973 oil embargo shocked the US into realizing that the golden age of endless sweet crude beginning in the 50s was in twilight. Our support for Israel in the Yom Kipper War pissed off the arabs, and in a bold move as sudden as the Israel's war they imposed an embargo. Oil quadrupled from $3 to $12/bbl in six months. Too many Americans in power failed to recognize that the landscape had changed, and instead turned to Israel and the CIA (covertly) and said "Hey! Aren't you supposed to be managing these guys?" That shit continues to this day. The Shah was an 'ally' yet his popularity suffered greatly when he told the New York Times, "You [Western nations] increased the price of wheat you sell us by 300%, and the same for sugar and cement...; You buy our crude oil and sell it back to us, refined as petrochemicals, at a hundred times the price you've paid to us...; It's only fair that, from now on, you should pay more for oil. Let's say ten times more." This in a time when North America was tapped out (pre-frack) and Middle East oil kept everything rolling. When every day people started running the numbers to imagine what might happen with a '10x increase' they freaked.
So the Shah of Iran was no longer to be the poster boy of the US nuclear industry, and that clear and simple message of post-petroleum survival was lost in the noise of rising political and Cold War lunacy.
While the US was busy proliferating is nuclear arsenal to greater heights, Jimmy Carter halted fuel reprocessing in 1977 for 'proliferation concerns'. So instead of building one (maybe two!) reprocessing plants and watching them closely, we have spent fuel in more than a hundred pools across the US which just sit there, we watch them closely. The government's halt of reprocessing and failure to deliver, as promised, safe off-plant storage is just two of the ways the nuclear industry has been fucked. Way to go.
Then the infamous one-two punch: the release of Jane Fonda's film China Syndrome on March 16, 1979 and while it was still in the theaters, Three Mile Island partial core meltdown Almost overnight a rally cry that had been heard before grew louder, people calling for the immediate end of nuclear energy. It did not help that immediately after Three Mile Island, even before the investigation concluded, the nuclear industry emitted misleading statements and outright lies that claimed nuclear power carried no risk.
It's been 34 years of mostly pain for the nuclear industry. Ironically, as a stellar safety record of disaster avoidance proceeds and the gigawatt-years mount, nuclear electricity exceeds 20% in some states, silly and mean people think it's fun to dis nuclear energy and the folks who keep it running. When I catch a snip of Homer Simpson these days I think to myself, there are real people behind this thing and it's just not funny anymore, even if it ever was.
Never mind the Population Bomb, the Nuclear Bomb or the CO2 Bomb. If our modern technology fails and people die en mass it would more likely be something like this, without the happy ending. In place of that silly cyber-attack substitute something more likely and really boring, like a climate event, continent-wide hard freeze during a brutal Winter, small asteroid impact or supervolcano ash.
Once we lose roads and railroads we lose the coal plants, and the grid. Natural gas distribution would fragment then cease, windmills and solar not even worth mentioning. The only lights in the darkness would be nuclear power plants, with months or years of fuel on hand. Did you know... near a nuclear power plant you can raise a serious crop of fish year-round? It's not "Limits to Growth", and the middlemen who want a piece of your pie to manage it. It's a limit of imagination. We need to fight it.
By the way: remember that Plymouth nuclear plant that was mentioned in the Shah of Iran ad? It's still going, generating ~14% of Massachusetts' electricity. Fish love it. Sometimes the good guys win.