By SANTANU CHOUDHURY And PAUL BECKETT
NEW DELHI – General Electric Co. Chairman Jeffrey Immelt said the U.S. conglomerate will offer technical assistance to its nuclear energy joint-venture partner Hitachi Ltd. and the Japanese government as the country, ravaged by an earthquake and a tsunami last week, saw a new explosion Monday at a nuclear power plant.
GE supplied reactor No. 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant about 150 miles from Tokyo where concerns have been mounting after an explosion Saturday at the reactor following Friday’s 8.9-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami. On Monday, there was a further explosion at reactor No. 3, supplied by Toshiba Corp., at the same plant.
“Let’s just let this whole process work out,” he said. “We have to let people do an exploration on what happened and let it take its course.”
GE has dedicated $5 million to emergency relief efforts in Japan. When asked whether the country is considering evacuation of staff, Mr. Immelt said: “All our people are safe and staying there.”
Nuclear power has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years as a clean alternative to fossil fuels and a way to match growing global energy demands. But the problems at the nuclear plants in Japan following the earthquake have thrown that optimism into some doubt in some quarters.
“There is a 50-year track record on nuclear power that people can look back on and make their own judgments,” Mr. Immelt said.
GE has been instrumental in supporting a landmark civilian nuclear energy deal between the U.S. and India, which was approved by the Indian Parliament in the summer of 2008.
But the agreement has bogged down since then after India passed enabling legislation that placed liability for nuclear accidents on equipment suppliers, something that nuclear-equipment suppliers said was out of step with other international regimes where operators typically accrued liability. The U.S. government has been working to alter the impact of the legislation, which several suppliers say is needed for them to consider selling equipment in India.
Japan’s problems may make a compromise less likely. Mr. Immelt said that Japan has a liability regime that shields suppliers, which is common internationally, and he noted at another point that “we have said consistently that the regime in India has to fit global liability regimes.”
But Japan’s experience may embolden those in India who don’t want suppliers to be exonerated. Separately, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday announced a review of nuclear reactors in the country in the wake of the problems in Japan.
“The government attaches the highest importance to nuclear safety,” Mr. Singh said.
India has 20 nuclear power reactors with a capacity of 4,780 megawatts that are operated by the state-run Nuclear Power Corp. of India Ltd. The country aims to expand its nuclear power generating capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032.
NPCIL Chairman S. K. Jain said India’s nuclear program will continue unhindered by the accidents in Japan.
“We are watching the situation closely. Safety is the overriding parameter,” Mr. Jain said