* IAEA states adopted nuclear safety plan despite divisions
* U.N. agency sees "significant progress" in implementation
* Greenpeace: plan does not address "real lessons" of Fukushima (Adds Greenpeace, paragraphs 1, 5-6, 22, Belgian background, 10)
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Important progress has been made towards strengthening global nuclear safety after Japan's Fukushima accident last year, according to the United Nations atomic watchdog, but a leading environmental group disputed this.
The International Atomic Energy Agency made the assessment in a report prepared for next month's annual meeting of IAEA member states, which endorsed a safety action 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 U.N. agency said.
These included "improvements in emergency preparedness and response capabilities," it added in the nine-page document posted on its website.
But environmental campaign group Greenpeace, which opposes nuclear energy, said there had been "no real" progress.
"The IAEA's action plan does not address any of the real lessons of Fukushima," Aslihan Tumer of Greenpeace International's nuclear campaign said in an e-mailed comment.
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 residents never returned.
In Japan last month, a government-appointed inquiry raised doubt about whether other nuclear plants in the country were prepared for massive disasters.
Last week in Europe, Belgium's regulator said it had halted production at one of the reactors of a nuclear plant until at least the end of August to carry out an investigation into suspected cracks found in a core tank.
The IAEA plan approved six months after the Fukushima accident was criticised by some nations for not championing more mandatory measures. It outlined voluntary steps intended to help prevent a repeat of such a crisis event anywhere in the world.
It also 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 areas including assessments of "safety vulnerabilities" of atomic plants and strengthened peer reviews.
These and other measures had contributed to "the enhancement of the global nuclear safety framework", it said.
"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."
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 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 safety action plan for not including stricter measures, while the United States, India and China stressed the responsibility of national authorities.
Greenpeace said changes were needed in the entire system for regulating the nuclear industry and a few "touch-ups" here and there were not enough.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
In this combination photo, Tayo Kitamura, 40, kneels in the street to caress and talk to the wrapped body of her mother Kuniko Kitamura, 69, after Japanese firemen discovered the dead body in the ruins of her home in Onagawa, Japan, on March 19, 2011, top, and a newly built home sits at the site of the now-cleared but destroyed area on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A few homes have been rebuilt in the year since an earthquake and tsunami roared across Japan's coastline, killing 19,000 people. But most communities remain unrecognizable, and their residents' futures uncertain. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
The tsunami that slammed into Japan's coastline one year ago was merciless, sparing little in its path. Homes were reduced to rubble, cars tossed about like toys, and boats -- such as this one photographed in Kesennuma, Japan, on March 28, 2011 -- flung from the sea into streets and onto roofs. The ocean's fury, and the earthquake that preceded it, left around 19,000 people dead, hundreds of thousands homeless, and sparked the worst nuclear crisis the world had seen in a quarter century. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this combination photo, Japanese vehicles pass through the ruins of the leveled city of Minamisanriku, Japan, on March 15, 2011, top, four days after the tsunami, and vehicles pass through the same area on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
The earthquake and tsunami, which killed around 19,000 people, delivered one of their worst hits to the once-scenic, blue-collar fishing town of Minamisanriku, Japan, photographed here on March 15, 2011. The wall of water spared little in its path, sweeping away nearly every business and every job, and leaving more than half the town's residents dead or homeless. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A year after the earthquake and tsunami people across Japan and leveled this town, there are hints of progress _ the main roads are free of debris, and some temporary houses have been built. But many in Minamisanriku, and elsewhere across Japan's battered coastline, remain in a hellish state of limbo. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this combination photo, a ship washed away by the tsunami sits in a destroyed residential neighborhood in Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, on March 28, 2011, top, and the same ship sits on the same spot on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
A year after an earthquake and tsunami ravaged the country's coastline and killed around 19,000 people, many of the boats carried inland by the wall of water have been removed. But some, like this one, remain _ providing a stark reminder of nature's fearsome power. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder File)
One year later, more than 3,200 people presumed killed in the earthquake and tsunami have yet to be found. They are among the 19,000 people who lost their lives on March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this combination photo, Japanese residents of Kesennuma, northeastern Japan, pass through a road that was cleared by bulldozer through the ruins of the city on March 17, 2011, six days after the tsunami, top, and people cross the same street on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In the days after the earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan's coastal towns, the bulldozers began to arrive, clearing away the rubble that littered the roads, such as this street in Kesennuma, Japan, photographed on March 17, 2011. Those tasked with clearing away the wreckage faced a monstrous task: towering piles of twisted metal and wood, boats perched atop roofs, mountains of family heirlooms, sodden furniture and children's toys. They also faced the grim reality that many of the 19,000 people killed lay entombed in the rubble, waiting to be discovered. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
One year after a powerful tsunami battered Japan and killed around 19,000 people, the streets have been cleared and the wreckage removed from town centers. But the process of destroying all that debris has been slow, with much of it still sitting in huge mountains in temporary holding areas. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
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