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Fukushima Radiation Low Enough for Some Residents to Return

TOKYO – Hundreds of people may be allowed to permanently return to their homes near Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant if a no-go order in place for almost three years is lifted in April as expected.

Radiation levels have dropped below the annual 20-millisievert safety limit recommended by regulators, officials from the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters told a town hall meeting last weekend.

As a result, about 300 people from the eastern Miyakoji area in the town of Tamura could now be allowed to return to their homes permanently and begin to rebuild their lives.

Decontamination was completed last June, but while residents were allowed to return to their homes for short periods, living in them was not permitted.

The government initially proposed lifting the ban last October, but the decision was postponed after protests from some residents who urged further decontamination work.

Japanese authorities originally set up a 12-mile exclusion radius around the Fukushima plant, but shifting wind patterns and other factors continuously changed the boundaries of the danger zone.

About 25,000 people from 11 towns, including parts of Tamura, remain in limbo because their homes are in areas where radiation levels are still deemed too high for permanent residence.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns the Fukushima facility, has been harshly criticized for its response to three nuclear meltdowns following a magnitude-9 earthquake and powerful tsunami in 2011.

Only last week about 3,175 gallons of highly contaminated water spilled into the ground from a tank after a valve was left open by mistake. A spokesman insisted it was unlikely the water spilled into the sea because there were no waterways leading that way.