* IAEA states adopted nuclear safety plan despite divisions
* U.N. agency sees "significant progress" in key areas
* These include improvements in emergency preparedness
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Aug 15 Important progress has been made
towards strengthening global nuclear safety after Japan's
Fukushima accident last year, according to the United Nations
The International Atomic Energy Agency made the assessment
in a report prepared for next month's annual meeting of IAEA
member states, which endorsed the safety plan by consensus last
September despite criticism that it did not go far enough.
"Since the adoption of the IAEA Action Plan on Nuclear
Safety, significant progress has been made in several key
areas," the Vienna-based agency said.
These included "improvements in emergency preparedness and
response capabilities," it added in the nine-page document
posted on its website.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of
Tokyo, was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that knocked out
power supply and swamped its backup power and cooling systems,
resulting in meltdowns of three of its six reactors.
About 150,000 people were forced to flee as radioactive
materials spewed, some never to return.
Last month in Japan, a government-appointed inquiry raised
doubts about whether other nuclear plants in the country were
prepared for massive disasters.
The IAEA plan approved six months after the accident was
criticised by some nations for not championing more mandatory
steps. It outlined a series of voluntary steps intended to help
prevent a repeat of such a crisis event anywhere in the world.
It called 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.
The IAEA report on the plan's implementation so far - which
will be presented to the Sept. 17-21 General Conference of the
agency's more than 150 member states - said there had been
progress in assessing "safety vulnerabilities" of atomic plants.
This and other measures had contributed to "the enhancement
of the global nuclear safety framework", it said, without giving
details about the situation in individual countries.
"Significant progress has also been made in reviewing the
agency's safety standards which continue to be widely applied by
regulators, operators and the nuclear industry in general."
There is "increased attention and focus on vitally important
areas such as accident prevention", it added.
But continued efforts need to be made to ensure more
effective communication to the public if there is a radiological
or nuclear emergency, the report said.
The IAEA was criticised for its initial handling of the
Fukushima disaster, with media and Vienna-based diplomats saying
it was slow to give information in the early days of the crisis.
The Fukushima accident spurred a rethink about nuclear
energy worldwide and calls for more concerted action, including
beefed-up international safety checks of nuclear power plants.
But preparatory work last year on the IAEA plan exposed
differences between states seeking more international
commitments and others wanting safety to remain an issue
strictly for national authorities.
One group of nations - including Germany and France - voiced
disappointment about the final version of the IAEA's safety
action plan for not including stricter measures.
The United States, India and China were among countries
stressing the responsibility of national authorities.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)