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Japan: Residents allowed to return to Fukushima 'hot zones'

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For the first time since Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster more than three years ago, residents of a small district 20 km from the wrecked plant are about to be allowed to return home.

The Miyakoji area of Tamura, a northeastern city inland from the Fukushima nuclear station, has been off-limits for most residents since March 2011, when the government ordered evacuations after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the power plant.

Tuesday's reopening of Miyakoji will mark a tiny step for Japan as it seeks to recover from the Fukushima disaster and a major milestone for the 357 registered residents of the district - most of whom the city hopes will go back, Reuters reports.

The 2011 crisis forced more than 160,000 people from towns near the Fukushima plant to evacuate. Around a third of them are still living in temporary housing scattered over Fukushima prefecture, their lives on hold as they wait for Japan to complete decontamination work.

Japan's $30 billion cleanup of radioactive fallout around Fukushima is behind schedule and not expected to achieve the long-term radiation reduction goal - 1 millisievert per year - set by the previous administration.

Across Fukushima prefecture, hundreds of workers are still scraping the top soil off of the ground, cutting leaves and branches off trees and hosing down houses with water to lower radiation levels.

Radiation levels in selected monitoring spots in Miyakoji ranged from 0.11 microsieverts to 0.48 microsieverts per hour, according to Tamura city's February results.

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