Some evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe will have to wait years longer before they can return home after Japan admitted its radiation clean-up in the most contaminated towns is behind schedule.
The Environment Ministry is revising the timetable for six of 11 municipalities in an exclusion zone from where residents were moved after the power plant went into meltdown following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The original plan called for completing all decontamination by next March.
Nobody has been allowed to live in the zone again yet, although the government has allowed day visits to homes and businesses in some places after initial decontamination, said an Environment Ministry spokesman.
"We will have to extend the clean up process, by one year, two years or three years, we haven't exactly decided yet," he said.
He said there were several reasons for the delay, including a lack of space for the waste from the decontamination work. Some residents have opposed dumping the waste in their neighborhoods.
The Asahi newspaper reported on Saturday that the government is planning an extension of up to three years in areas such as Iitate, a village north west of the plant where a highly radioactive plume spread in the first few days of the crisis.
However an International Atomic Energy Agency mission that visited the Fukushima area last week highlighted the progress Japan has made in the two years since the team's previous visit.
"The main conclusion of the mission is that Japan has achieved important progress," team leader Juan Carlos Lentijo said.
In a preliminary report the team noted good progress in the return of farmland in some areas, and monitoring that has shown the land can produce food with levels of radioactivity below the permissible level.
The 16-strongteam of international experts and IAEA staff visited Kawauchi, a village that has been partially opened to residents again. About 40% of its population of 3,000 has returned.