Former residents of towns near the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station have been told they will be waiting years to return as the clean-up of radioactive contamination is behind schedule.

Environment Ministry officials said on Monday that they were revising the clean-up schedule for six of 11 municipalities in an exclusion zone evacuated after three reactors went into meltdown following a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The original plan called for completing all decontamination by next March.

No one has been allowed to live in the zone, though the government has allowed day visits to homes and businesses in some places after initial decontamination, said Shigeyoshi Sato, an Environment Ministry official in charge of decontamination.

"We will have to extend the clean-up process, by one year, two years or three years, we haven't exactly decided yet," he said.

Sato cited several reasons for the delay, including a lack of space for the waste from the decontamination work.

The Asahi newspaper reported on Saturday that the government was planning an extension of up to three years.

'Good progress'

An International Atomic Energy Agency mission report, released on Monday, noted some land in the area can produce food with levels of radioactivity below the permissible level.

The 16-person team of international experts and IAEA staff visited Kawauchi, a village where about 40 percent of its population of 3,000 has returned after a cordon was lifted.

Source: AP