TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan will let children and pregnant women return to certain areas near the Fukushima nuclear plant, the trade minister said on Friday, following an improvement in living conditions after a huge earthquake and tsunami in March.
Schools have been shut down in these areas located within the 20-30 km radius of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where about 60,000 people lived prior to the radiation leaks from the nuclear plant.
Though evacuation was not mandatory for residents as the radioactivity was within limits, some 30,000 left these areas, a spokesman at the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.
"We have taken a sound step towards rebuilding and reconstruction in areas suffering damages from the nuclear disaster," Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who oversees economic damages from the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
"We recognise those who evacuated from this zone are concerned about radiation contamination and infrastructure," he said, adding the government will help clean these areas and organise social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals.
Local governments and volunteers have been working to reduce high levels of radioactivity in these areas such as by removing radioactive top soil, but worries remain among residents over long-term health effects.
About 80,000 people were forced to evacuate from the 20 km radius no-go zone surrounding the plant. Another 10,000 have fled a different zone in nearby towns where levels of radioactivity was high.
Some experts have criticised the way the complicated way the government set up evacuation zones.
"The basic of crisis management is to draw a clear line and not to leave any unclear zones," said Tatsuhiko Kodama, who heads the University of Tokyo's Radioisotope Center.
Experts have said cleanup projects could cost tens of billions of dollars, while Japan must also figure out where to store and dispose of the massive amounts of nuclear waste stemming from decontamination efforts.
The government aims to halve radiation over two years in places contaminated by the crisis, relying on both the natural drop in radiation as time passes and by human efforts.