Tokyo (AFP) - Japan will lift an exclusion order on an area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, allowing some residents to return to live for the first time since the disaster, officials said Monday.
"The formal lifting of the evacuation order will come on April 1, affecting around 300 people" whose homes are in part of Tamura city, around 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of the wreaked plant, a Cabinet Office official told AFP.
Over the next two years, up to 30,000 people will be allowed to return to their homes in the original exclusion zone, thrown up in a bid to protect people from the harmful effects of leaking radiation, he added.
The decision comes despite sharp divisions among residents over whether or not they should return, with many still concerned over the persistent presence of low-level radiation, despite decontamination efforts.
Under government guidelines, areas are declared suitable for habitation if someone living there is exposed to a maximum of 20 millisieverts of radiation per year.
Officials have said they would like to get radiation exposure down to one millisievert a year.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends a dosage limit of one millisievert per year from all sources of radiation, but says exposure to less than 100 millisieverts per year presents no statistically significant increase in cancer risk.
A single CT hospital scan delivers around 10 millisieverts, according to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan.
Once the evacuation order is lifted, people will be free to choose whether or not to return home, the official said.
"Compensation (paid by the government and Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power) will continue, in terms of properties and the disaster-led joblessness," he said.
"But the monthly pay of 100,000 yen ($980) to address emotional distress caused by the accident will end if residents decide to return home," he said.
Nearly three years after the massive tsunami slammed into Japan, killing more than 18,000 and setting off the worst nuclear accident in a generation, around 100,000 people remain displaced because of evacuation orders, according to Japan's Reconstruction Agency.