VIENNA (Reuters) - Radiation measured at a village 40 km (25 miles) from Japan's crippled nuclear plant is falling by the day, the U.N. atomic agency said Friday, two days after warning the level exceeded a criterion for evacuation.
Wednesday's statement by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had added to pressure on Japan's government to extend the exclusion zone beyond 20 km around the severely damaged Fukushima power plant.
But IAEA officials said Friday further soil samples from Iitate showed the average value of radioactive iodine -131 down at 7 megabecquerels a square meter against 20 megabecquerels earlier -- twice the level of an IAEA criterion for evacuation.
"This value is lower than what was reported Wednesday," senior agency official Gerhard Proehl told a media conference.
"Because there are more samples ... and together with the radioactive decay the situation improves daily," he said, adding 15 soil samples had been taken between March 19 and March 29.
Japanese opposition politicians have lambasted Prime Minister Naoto Kan for sticking with the original exclusion area, nearly three weeks after an earthquake and tsunami sparked the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
But Denis Flory, an IAEA deputy director general, said the Vienna-based agency had never recommended evacuation from the area, saying this was up to the Japanese authorities.
"It is in the hands of the Japanese government. They are assessing the situation and it is their role to take actions based on their assessment," Flory said.
He said the overall situation at Fukushima power plant, severely damaged by the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami, remained "very serious."
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Michael Shields; Editing by Louise Ireland)