At least 13 people were injured yesterday in an explosion at a steel plant in central Japan, an official said, the latest in a series of accidents at the site.
Television pictures showed clouds of black smoke billowing from the Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal facility in Tokai, where 3,000 employees were engaged in producing steel sheets and pipes.
A Tokyo-based spokeswoman for the world's No 2 steelmaker said 13 people were injured in the blast just before 1pm local time, "nine of them employees [of Nippon Steel] ... and four of them employees of its partner companies".
At least six people were taken to hospital, private broadcaster Nippon TV reported. The report said the injuries were not life-threatening.
Another local report said 15 people were injured, three of them severely.
"There was a small explosion that was caused by a fire at a coke oven," a Tokai city official said, adding he did not know about the severity of the injuries.
The explosion came after other fire troubles at the same plant earlier this year.
No one was hurt in separate incidents at the plant in January, June and July.
The incidents prompted the mayor of Tokai, a city of about 100,000 people, formally to ask the steelmaker to draw up a plan to deal with any safety problems.
Four incidents this year were related to power blackouts, the company spokeswoman said, adding that yesterday's problem was caused by another issue.
"The fire broke out during the process right before coal is thrown into a coke oven," she said.