Of course there are many reasons for the fascination with the nuclear crisis in Japan, and it is undeniable that the non-nuclear tsunami effects have caused way more death and misery than the reactor problems. It is also true that the media makes unwholesome sensationalism for financial gain, and the public reaction is often irrational.
That said, I don't think it's surprising that people are very concerned about the nuclear crisis. Unlike the tsunami which we can't control (and killed less people than the recent one in Indonisia), it is man made. Nuclear power is not easily understood, and requires trust in "experts" and a powerful industry, a trust which seems to have been betrayed. The more powerful the technology, the greater the unintended consequences. Can powerful industries be policed by governments? Are they, like Wall Street blinded by herd mentalities?
Unlike coal mining, it threatens everyone in an area. It's threat is unseen, insidious, and long lasting. Land at the reactor sites (we won't know how much for a while yet, hopefully not much) will be unusable for hundreds of years in a country where land is at a premium. It highlights our difficulty with risk assessment and balancing. Should we plan for the 100, 1000, or 10,000 year event? What's the difference in cost?
It also goes to the heart of our strategy for living on earth. I heard an expert in nuclear power discussing the crisis say that we must have atomic reactors because we will require 50% more energy by 2020. For me, this pervasive attitude, that we have no choice about the increased amount of energy we will use, is the most frightening thing about the world situation. Of course we have a choice though not an easy one. We can use less energy by conserving more, being more efficient, and dare I say it, consuming less and having less children. We could even find more satisfying ways to live. If our "energy requirements" continue to rise at the present rate, the world will become a very unpleasant and difficult place to live.
My thoughts are with the people in Japan coping with so much devastation and loss.