* Nations divided on safety measures after Fukushima
* U.S., China, India resisted mandatory steps
* Germany, France sought firmer international action
(Adds Amano quotes, Sarkozy statement, byline)
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Sept 22 The U.N. nuclear agency endorsed
an action plan on Thursday to help strengthen global nuclear
safety in the wake of Japan's Fukushima accident six months ago,
despite criticism from some countries that it does not go far
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 151 member states,
at their annual general conference in Vienna, approved by
consensus the plan prepared by the office of IAEA Director
General Yukiya Amano.
It is "both a rallying point and a blueprint for
strengthening nuclear safety worldwide," Amano said.
"It contains concrete and achievable actions to make nuclear
safety post-Fukushima more robust and effective than before."
After a huge earthquake and a massive tsunami struck on
March 11, reactor fuel rods at the Japanese plant began melting
down as power and cooling functions failed, causing radiation
leakage and forcing the evacuation of 80,000 people.
The disaster spurred a rethink about nuclear energy
worldwide and calls for more concerted measures, including
beefed-up international safety checks of reactors, to make sure
such an accident does not recur.
The IAEA plan, outlining a series of voluntary measures
intended to help prevent a repeat of such an accident anywhere
in the world, had been cleared by the IAEA's 35-nation governing
board last week, also by consensus.
It calls on countries to promptly carry out assessments of
their nuclear power plants on how they would be able to
withstand extreme natural hazards as well as steps to strengthen
emergency preparedness and information.
But the board's debate underlined divisions between states
seeking more international commitments and others wanting safety
to remain an issue strictly for national authorities.
One group of nations -- including Germany, France,
Switzerland, Singapore, Canada and Denmark -- voiced
disappointment about the final version of the IAEA's safety
action plan for not including stricter measures.
Speaking at the United Nations on Thursday, French President
Nicolas Sarkozy said the international community must boost
nuclear safety with mandatory safety inspections and a rapid
action force to contain disasters like Fukushima.
The United States, India, China and Pakistan were among
countries stressing the responsibility of national authorities,
making clear they opposed any moves toward mandatory outside
safety inspections of their nuclear installations.
Addressing the conference on Monday, U.S. Energy Secretary
Steven Chu said Washington supported implementation of the
action plan "to address lessons learned from Fukushima.
"We must, however, maintain the central role of national
regulators and plant operators in achieving safety objectives."
Amano said in his statement on Thursday that the plan must
be implemented "fully and vigorously ... we must not lose our
sense of urgency. Public expectations are very high."
(Editing by Roger Atwood)