(Reuters) - Japan will pay schools near the quake-ravaged Fukushima nuclear power plant to remove radioactive top soil and set a lower radiation exposure limit for schoolchildren after a growing outcry over health risks.
The Education Ministry triggered protests in April when it set a radiation exposure limit for children of 20 millisieverts per year, the same dosage the International Commission on Radiation Protection recommends for nuclear plant workers.
The decision became a focal point for anger over Prime Minister Naoto Kan's handling of the crisis and the forced evacuation of tens of thousands residents.
Education Minister Yoshiaki Takaki said Tokyo would pay for local schools to remove topsoil in playgrounds that exceeded radiation limits.
It would also set a target of radiation exposure for children at schools of one-twentieth of the previous limit.
"We will provide financial support to schools . for measures to deal with soil in school yards as a way to lower radiation levels for children," Takaki told a news conference.
The magnitude 9.0 earthquake on March 11 and the massive tsunami that followed killed about 24,000 people and knocked out power to the Fukushima plant, triggering the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
The crisis has displaced some 80,000 residents from around the plant and prompted a review of Japan's energy policy, with the government "starting from scratch" on nuclear policy.
Greenpeace on Thursday slammed the country's "continued inadequate response" and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said another 36 tonnes of radioactive water had leaked from a waste disposal building that has served as a temporary storage site.
The approach of Japan's rainy season increases the risk of radiation spilling into groundwater and will require tighter monitoring, Tokyo Electric spokesman Junichin Matsumoto said.
Writing by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Nick Macfie