Nuclear energy: handle with care
is an editor at BBC Global News. Twitter: @OS1954
Over the weekend, the first foreign leaders visited Fukushima since the nuclear accident following the tsunami in March. China's premier Wen Jiabao and South Korea's president Lee Myung-bak were in Japan for a trilateral trade summit, but their presence highlighted the nuclear story that has received so much coverage in the past couple of months.
A quarter of a century separates Fukushima from the disaster at Chernobyl. When I covered the Chernobyl explosion 25 years ago, I never thought history would be repeated.
Chernobyl was at first an impossible reporting job because of the pervasive secrecy of the Soviet regime. Even though Mikhail Gorbachev had launched his campaign of Glasnost (or openness), the nuclear industry was out of bounds.
It was only because the wind was blowing west that the Swedish authorities picked up the increased levels of radiation. Then the Soviet government had to admit something was wrong - four days later. Had the wind been blowing east, across the USSR's 11 time zones, we might not have heard of the accident for many more days, if not weeks.
In Fukushima, the reporting of the accident was very prompt, but the danger was clearly played down: look at the BBC's report of 11 March quoting officials saying there "would be no health risk". But then came this dramatic video and even non-experts (i.e. most of us) could see that Fukushima was actually on a different scale.
Lessons learned: when it comes to the nuclear industry the instinct of the authorities is always to minimise the scale of the accident and potential health risks. This is not to say that Chernobyl and Fukushima were similar in terms of radiation release, and not at all to draw a comparison between the official Soviet misinformation and the way the Japanese authorities reported what they knew or thought they knew at the time.
And then comes stage two: reporting the aftermath. It's a tricky one as journalists have to give the public a lot of data which is often complex and technical: meltdown, reactor core, containment vessels, cooling ponds - thank god for infographics.
What was much more difficult, both at Chernobyl and 25 years later at Fukushima, was explaining the radiation side of the story. Those of you who know the difference between Becquerels and Sieverts look away now. Others: please read this useful explainer by Wade Allison from Oxford University who in her book Radiation and Reason explores so well the irrational fear of the invisible threat.
It is important that journalists do not lag behind their audiences and do grasp the detail - even such basics as the type of radiation, the way the isotopes get into the food chain and why children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. All of that is now essential knowledge in covering this kind of story.
There are 443 nuclear reactors in the world - some in seismic zones; some near fault lines; some in countries with weak government and antiquated infrastructure. I don't know what the likelihood of another earthquake followed by a giant tsunami is, but another accident is likely to happen.
Of course, the industry pundits will tell you a lot about how they assess risk and implement accident-prevention plans; and of course things are generally getting safer - we can talk of progress.
Maybe so: but then listen to Witness with Victor Galinsky, one of those who was in charge of the Three Mile Island rescue - particularly his line that the engineers learned there had been a meltdown five years after the accident.
Bookmark the links above. You never know when they might be handy again.
Olexiy Solohubenko is Multimedia Editor, Languages at the BBC World Service. He was born and educated in Ukraine and began his broadcasting career at Radio Kiev. He has also been an Executive Editor for Americas and Europe Region at the BBC, and Head of the BBC Ukrainian Service which he helped to set up in 1992.