Responsible creation and dissemination of information can be as mundane as making sure you define your terms explicitly—especially those terms that are simultaneously technical and terrifying.
Of immediate concern is the prospect of a so-called "meltdown" at one or more of the Japanese reactors. But part of the problem in understanding the potential dangers is continued indiscriminate use, by experts and the media, of this inherently frightening term without explanation or perspective. There are varying degrees of melting or meltdown of the nuclear fuel rods in a given reactor; but there are also multiple safety systems, or containment barriers, in a given plant's design that are intended to keep radioactive materials from escaping into the general environment in the event of a partial or complete meltdown of the reactor core.
On CNN's Reliable Sources show Sunday, host Howard Kurtz raised questions about the difficult balance between legitimate concern and fear mongering in the around-the-clock coverage of an evolving emergency. Radio host Callie Crossley criticized the repeated media warnings of possible nuclear meltdown: "Nobody told me what it meant....I thought that was extremely irresponsible." Guest Mike Chinoy, a former CNN Asia correspondent, countered that the media "don't have the luxury of putting something together....This is a scary story."