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GE's Immelt defends nuclear industry safety

In Japan, GE's chief meets with executives of Tepco, operator of the crippled Fukushima power plant, and professes faith in the 40-year safety record of nuclear plants.

General Electric Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt defended the nuclear industry's safety record today during a trip to Tokyo to show support to the operator of a stricken nuclear plant using reactors designed by the U.S. conglomerate.

Immelt met with executives at Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), operator of the Fukushima power plant that was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and is leaking radiation in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

GE and its nuclear business partner Hitachi have sent over 1,000 workers to help with the so far unsuccessful efforts to get the plant under control.

"We have more than 1,000 engineers who have worked around the clock since the incident began and we will continue short-term, medium-term and long-term work with Tepco due to this horrific national disaster," Immelt told reporters after a meeting with Japan's trade minister.

"But this is an industry that operated effectively for 40 years. And that's my expectation," he said.

A GE Japan spokeswoman later told Reuters that Immelt excluded the Chernobyl incident when referring to the industry's safety record over the past four decades because it did not involve facilities designed by Western or Japanese firms.

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General Electric is preparing to ship more than 20 gas turbines to Japan to help ease an electricity shortage triggered by the March 11 disaster, which knocked out about one-fifth of Tepco's generating capacity, the spokeswoman said.

Immelt said GE would donate up to $10 million to Japan for humanitarian support. The earthquake left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing.

GE wholly built one of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. It constructed two others jointly with Toshiba. Toshiba built two on its own and Hitachi made one.

Anne Lauvergeon, the head of French nuclear reactor maker Areva was in Tokyo last week. She promised the company would send about 20 experts and provide technical and material assistance to help deal with the crisis.