In Brussels, EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was "effectively out of control," The New York Times reported.
Germany said earlier it would shut down its nuclear power plants and the European Union said it would assess all 143 plants in the EU in reaction to a troubled nuclear power plant in Japan, which was rocked by the earthquake and the follow-up tsunami that knocked out back up cooling systems.
In economic reports, the Labor Department said the U.S. Producer Prices index rose 1.6 percent in February compared to January. Private home building starts in February dropped 22.5 percent from January, with building permits down 8.2 percent from the previous month, the Commerce Department said.
By close of trading on Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 242.12 points or 2.04 percent to 11,613.30. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 24.99 or 1.95 percent to 1,256.88. The Nasdaq composite index of tech-dominated stock lost 50.51 or 1.89 percent to 2,616.82.
On the New York Stock Exchange, 703 stocks advanced and 2,323 declined on a volume of 4.1 billion shares traded.
The 10-year treasury note fell 29/32 to yield 3.2 percent.
The euro fell to $1.3902 from Tuesday's $1.3996. Against the yen, the dollar fell to 79.825 yen from Tuesday's 80.81 yen.
In Tokyo, the Nikkei 224 index gained 5.68 percent, 488.57 points, to 9.093.72, coming back from a loss of over 10 percent Tuesday.
In London, the FTSE 100 index fell 1.7 percent, 97.05, to 5,598.23.