Nuclear accidents can look very scary. A lot of people, (public and journalists among them) don't know how to interpret what the scientists and engineers are telling them anyway. The media like a nice scary story, its their job to write catchy headlines and get people to read stuff so it makes life easier for them when they can twist/misinterpret what they're being fed by the scientists and engineers into something that looks like a disaster scenario, especially with the backdrop of two real disasters. So they show some horrific images of a natural disaster and point out how appalling numbers of people have been killed and others who have had their lives ruined so that the readers/viewers are already shocked and then as if thats not enough they throw in the word 'nuclear' and what do you get? A whole load of fear and lots of attention to the media. Meanwhile the Japanese authorities are busy dealing with a disaster of epic proportions and aren't in a position to do a proper PR job.
As for New Scientist, its not a scientific journal, its more like a newspaper where the main reason to exist is to make money. They're just as guilty of making something look more scary than it actually is as any other newspaper, but because of the niche that they inhabit they have to disguise it a little more than the tabloids. Don't get me wrong I also enjoy reading New Scientist, its often a very entertaining read but please, don't expect impartial, scientific coverage because you're not going to find it there. They need to earn a living after all.