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Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Japan to Allow Thousands to Return Home

Japan plans to lift evacuation orders more than 55,000 forced to flee their homes after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

TOKYO — Japan will allow tens of thousands forced to flee their homes by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to return home within two years, the government announced on Friday.

The government will lift evacuation orders for some 56,500 residents of two zones near the crippled plant after March, 2017, according to a statement on the Ministry of Economy and Industry's website. No date was set for the remaining 33,100 who lived in towns adjacent to Fukushima and areas northwest of the facility that were harder hit by radiation leaks.

Officials also promised to accelerate infrastructure reconstruction in affected areas.

The government also approved plans by the plant operator to delay the removal of dangerous spent uranium fuel rods at the power station, the latest setback in Tokyo Electric Power Company's struggle to contain the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Related: Prayers, Promises as Japan Marks Tsunami Anniversary

Tens of thousands of Fukushima residents remain in temporary housing more than four years after the disaster, triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami that struck eastern Japan in March 2011.

Some areas near Fukushima have already been reopened but many former residents have been reluctant to return to their old homes because of a lack of facilities and widespread distrust of government claims that the areas are safe.