Japan's government on Tuesday chastised the operator of the world's largest nuclear plant for a string of fires that has hit the facility since it closed after an earthquake almost two years ago.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant is scheduled to restart as early as this month but the nine blazes, the latest of which hit Saturday, have stoked fears about the safety of the seven-reactor plant.
The minister for economy, trade and industry, Toshihiro Nikai, told reporters the latest incident was "very regrettable after we judged in February that there were no safety problems for resuming operations."
He asked "all those concerned to reflect seriously" on the incident.
"Other countries have been paying attention to whether we'll be able to restart our country's biggest nuclear power plant," he said.
The central government has in principle given the green light for the reopening of the plant, which was closed after a strong quake in July 2007 led to the leak of radioactive water from a spent fuel-rod pool.
Local residents have voiced fears over the safety of the plant following a string of fires there as well as concerns raised by some geologists that an off-shore tectonic faultine could trigger stronger earthquakes in future.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), reported another fire Saturday, the ninth since the shutdown.
TEPCO executive vice president Ichiro Takekuro on Tuesday visited the prefectural government office in Tokyo and "apologised for causing anxiety among residents," spokesman Takayuki Akiba said.
"We will do our utmost to prevent another accident from happening and to gain residents' understanding for the resumption of the operation," he said.