An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima prefecture on March 12. Source: /AFP/Getty Images

By Jim Polson, Kim Chipman and Mark Chediak – Mar 13, 2011

Global expansion of nuclear power may draw more scrutiny and skepticism as the world watches Japan struggle to prevent a meltdown at a reactor damaged by a record earthquake, a former U.S. atomic regulator said.

“This is obviously a significant setback for the so-called nuclear renaissance,” said Peter Bradford, a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “The image of a nuclear power plant blowing up before your eyes on a television screen is a first.”

An explosion at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor, which had begun venting radioactive gas after its cooling system failed, injured four workers yesterday. The utility reported no damage to the building housing the reactor. It began flooding the reactor with sea water and boric acid today to prevent a meltdown and eliminate the potential for a catastrophic release of radiation.

Water levels temporarily fell at the utility’s Daiichi No. 3 reactor, increasing the possibility of a hydrogen explosion at that reactor’s building, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said in Tokyo today.

There are 442 reactors worldwide that supply about 15 percent of the globe’s electricity, according to the London- based World Nuclear Association. There are plans to build more than 155 additional reactors, most of them in Asia, and 65 reactors are currently under construction, the association said on its website.

Read on…