UNITED NATIONS — A U.N. human rights expert is urging the Japanese government to stop returning children and women of reproductive age to areas near the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, where radiation levels remain higher than what was considered safe before the 2011 nuclear disaster.

Baskut Tuncak, the independent investigator on hazardous substances and wastes, told a news conference Thursday that the government’s decision to raise by 20 times what it considered to be an acceptable level of radiation exposure was deeply troubling and could have a potentially grave impact on children’s health.

“The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century,” Tuncak told a General Assembly committee.

“Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the government previously considered safe,” Tuncak said in a statement.

Tuncak also cited the government’s March 2017 move to stop providing housing subsidies to “self-evacuees, who fled from areas other than the government-designated evacuation zones.”

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed three reactors at the Fukushima plant.