Shunichi Tanaka, the boss of Japan’s nuclear energy regulator, claimed it would be better for Pyongyang to launch a missile strike on the Japanese capital instead of targeting one of the country’s five working reactors.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority head made the controversial comment while speaking to people living 215 miles outside Tokyo near a recently restarted reactor on Thursday.
He said: “If it were me, I think it would be much better to drop (a missile) on central Tokyo.”
Fears of a North Korean attack on one of its neighbours and rivals intensified this week after the secretive state tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, which landed in the Sea of Japan.
Such a weapon could be capable of reaching Alaska and there are worries North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un could order a nuclear warhead to be attached to the rocket.
A spokesman tried to play down Mr Tanaka’s remarks, insisting the nuclear chief was only joking and had later told reporters his comment was “inappropriate”.
Japan scaled back its reliance on atomic energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, when a nuclear power plant suffered three meltdowns after being struck by a tsunami.
The country shut down all of its nuclear reactors following the 2011 disaster, the world’s worst nuclear accident since the catastrophic Chernobyl event in 1986.
But it has begun restarting its nuclear reactors in the last few years, despite the concerns of locals living near power plants.
North Korea has sent a number of missiles into the Sea of Japan, with their firing viewed as political messages by Tokyo and around the world.
Last month, the governor of Japan’s western Ishikawa prefecture – which sits across from North Korea – retracted remarks in which he claimed North Koreans should be “starved to death” if his region were to targeted with nuclear weapons.
The crisis is likely to dominate Friday’s G20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany.