March 14, 2011 – By Paul de Bendern
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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - General Electric Co <GE.N> Chief Executive Jeff Immelt on Monday said it was too early to know what impact the nuclear power crisis in Japan would have on the nuclear power industry.
"Our first priority is to support the government and people of Japan," he said, adding that GE will donate $5 million to the relief effort and is also offering technical assistance to Japanese clients, the government and its partner there.
Japan's battle to avert a full-scale meltdown could damage the global nuclear energy industry, and derail plans to build dozens of new power plants and forestall any surge in demand for uranium to fuel them, analysts say.
In 2007, GE combined its nuclear ventures with Hitachi Ltd <6501.T> of Japan, on the expectation of a nuclear renaissance in the coming years.
GE is keen to invest in India's nuclear energy market, set to grow considerably in coming years.
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"There is now almost a 50-year track record of nuclear power that people can look back on and make their own judgments about," Immelt said.
"The best we can do is be imminently supportive of the Japanese government of the process that we should go through with the industry, the NEI (Nuclear Energy Institute) and all the other people in the industry," he added.
WATCHING INDIA NUCLEAR SECTOR
GE, which makes goods ranging from jet engines to medical diagnostic equipment, remains keen to tap a potential $150 billion atomic market in India. Local opposition to expanding nuclear energy may rise due to the Japanese crisis, analysts say.
A provision in India's nuclear liability law that gives it the right to seek damages from plant suppliers if there is an accident has raised concerns among companies.
The entry of firms like GE is seen as uncertain unless India provides more clarity on compensation liability for private operators.
"I still think it's too early to make a profound decision as it pertains to India. Let the process work its course in Japan and then we will have plenty of time to make an assessment on the nuclear industry in India as time goes on," Immelt said.
He added: "I really think that the comments we have made about investing in nuclear in India haven't changed based on the tragedy in Japan, which is we have said consistently that the regime in India has to fit the global liabilities regimes for nuclear power."
GE is keen to tap into India's massive infrastructure sector, with the state saying it needs to invest $1 trillion over the next five years.
Immelt said GE was not looking at making major acquisitions in 2011 but would stick to its current strategy.