The clean-up of radiation in some of the most contaminated towns around Fukushima's nuclear power plant is far behind schedule, so residents have been told they will have to wait a few more years before returning.
Environment Ministry officials said they were revising the clean-up schedule for six of 11 municipalities in an exclusion zone from which residents were evacuated after the plant went into meltdown following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The original plan called for completing all decontamination by next March.
Nobody has been allowed to live in the zone again yet, though the government has allowed day visits to homes and businesses after initial decontamination.
"We would have to extend the clean-up process, by one year, two years or three years, we haven't exactly decided yet," said Shigeyoshi Sato, an Environment Ministry official in charge of decontamination.
Sato cited several reasons for the delay, including a lack of space to store the waste that comes out of the decontamination process. Some residents have opposed dumping the waste in their neighbourhoods.
The Asahi newspaper reported on Saturday that the government is planning an extension of up to three years in areas including Iitate, a village northwest of the plant where a highly radioactive plume spread in the first few days of the crisis.
An International Atomic Energy Agency team is also finishing a week-long visit to check clean-up progress in Kawauchi, a less contaminated community that has been partially opened to living again. So far, about 40 per cent of Kawauchi's population of 3,000 has returned to the village.