Japan's prime minister says the country will scrap a plan calling for increasing the share of nuclear power as an energy source to 50 per cent from the current 30 per cent.

Naoto Kan told a news conference Tuesday that Japan needs to "start from scratch" on its long-term energy policy after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

"We will thoroughly ensure safety for nuclear power generation and make efforts to further promote renewable energy," an area where Japan has lagged behind Europe and the U.S., he said.

Kan also said he would take a pay cut beginning in June until the Fukushima nuclear crisis is resolved to take responsibility as part of the government that has promoted nuclear energy. He didn't specify how much of a pay cut he would take.

The operator of the stricken power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., has been struggling for nearly two months to restore critical cooling systems that were knocked out by the disaster. Some 80,000 people living within a 20-kilometre radius of the plant were evacuated from their homes on March 12, with many living in gymnasiums.

Earlier Tuesday, about 100 evacuees were allowed into the exclusion zone around Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi plant Tuesday for a brief visit to gather belongings from their homes.


Villagers wear protective suits at a gymnasium for a brief visit to their houses located near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, for the first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. About 100 evacuees were allowed into the exclusion zone around Japan's troubled nuclear plant Tuesday. (Kyodo News/Associated Press)

The excursion marked the first time the government has felt confident enough in the safety of the area to sanction even short trips there. Residents have been pushing hard for weeks for permission to check up on their homes.

The evacuees — just a fraction of the tens of thousands forced to flee when the plant started leaking radiation after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami — boarded chartered government buses for the two-hour visit.

They were provided with protective suits, goggles and face masks to wear while in the zone, and were issued plastic bags to put their belongings in. They were also given dosimeters to monitor radiation levels and walkie-talkies.

All were to be screened for radiation contamination after leaving the 20-kilometre zone.

More visits are planned in the months ahead, but residents fear they may never be able to return for good.

Many had been secretly sneaking back into the zone during the day, but the government — concerned over safety and the possibility of theft — began enforcing stricter road blocks and imposing fines on April 22.

The official visits were seen as a compromise that took both safety and the wishes of the residents into consideration.

Nine towns and villages are subject to the no-go zone order, and several more are on alert for a possible evacuation in the near future. Tens of thousands of residents from the area still live in evacuation shelters, though many have scattered to the homes of relatives or apartments in other locations across the country.

Government officials and the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the Daiichi facility, have said that it could be six to nine months before the residents might return to resume their lives. They admit even that is a best-case scenario, however.

Workers continue the battle to repair and stabilize the plant, but it remains highly radioactive in some areas, making progress slow and dangerous.