(CNN) -- Japanese stocks closed down 10.55 percent, recovering from deeper losses earlier in the session, as the nation grappled with a crisis at an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant and the aftermath of last week's earthquake and tsunami.
It was the third steepest percentage fall in the Nikkei's history.
At one point, the Nikkei plunged more than 1,390 points, or more than 14 percent, nearing the worst-ever plunge of 14.90 percent on October 20, 1987, after the U.S. stock market crash on Black Monday.
The close at 8,605.15, combined with the 6.2 percent drop on Monday, the first full trading day after the quake, marked a nearly 17 percent drop in two days.
A few hours earlier, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the risk of further releases of radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant remained "very high."
The Tokyo market had opened shortly after the owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan reported an "explosive impact" at the plant's No. 2 reactor, a day after a hydrogen explosion rocked another reactor.
The plant was among the many structures damaged or destroyed by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
The death toll following the quake has risen to 2,475, authorities said, with at least 3,118 people missing. The Kyodo News Agency said that doesn't take into account reports of thousands of bodies in one northeastern prefecture. More than 450,000 people are reported homeless.
Other Asian markets were also down markedly, a day after modest gains in the face of the Japanese sell-off. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was off 3 percent in afternoon trading.
U.S. markets were set for a lower open. S&P and Dow futures were lower by 0.6 percent, while Nasdaq futures were down 0.8 percent.
World markets finished generally lower Monday as investors assessed the impact of the Japanese disaster on the global economy.
In the United States, the Dow Jones industrial average slid 51 points, or 0.4 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE-100 ended down 0.9 percent, with France's CAC-40 and Germany's DAX both more than 1 percent lower.