By Paul de Bendern
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The head of General Electric Co <GE.N> offered Japan support on Monday to deal with the country's worst ever nuclear power crisis and at the same time defended the track record of the industry.
Engineers in Japan are scrambling to prevent a meltdown at three reactors after Friday's devastating earthquake and tsunami forced an automatic shutdown of the units.
GE built the first reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) <9501.T>, and with Toshiba Corp <6502.T> it manufactured the second.
"Clearly we are offering any kind of technical assistance to our customer TEPCO and the government of Japan as they go through the recovery efforts with the nuclear power plants," Chief Executive Jeff Immelt told reporters said. "Our first priority is to support the government and people of Japan."
Immelt said GE would donate $5 million to relief efforts and extend technical support to Hitachi Ltd. <6501.T>, Toshiba and Tokyo Electric Power, as well as the government.
The accident in Japan has already started to raise doubts about the future growth of the nuclear power industry globally.
Germany's foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle said on Monday the further operation of every single plant could not be guaranteed.
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.
Switzerland suspended some approvals.
When asked if the nuclear power accident in Japan could prove to be a turning point for the industry, Immelt said: "There is now almost a 50-year track record of nuclear power that people can look back on and make their own judgments about."
In 2007, GE combined its nuclear ventures with Hitachi on the expectation of a nuclear renaissance in the coming years.
"It's early days. Let people do exploration of what happened (in Japan) and let it take its course," he said. "We are still only 72 hours from this earthquake and tsunami. A lot is still being understood."
WATCHING INDIA NUCLEAR SECTOR
GE is keen to invest in India's nuclear energy market, set to grow considerably in coming years.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told parliament on Monday that the safety of all the country's nuclear power plants would be immediately inspected in the aftermath of Japan's earthquake and tsunami.
GE, which makes goods ranging from jet engines to medical diagnostic equipment, is 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.
"We have announced a number of deals in the last six months but I think other than deals like that you won't see either a huge number or super big industrial acquisitions," he said. (Editing by Tony Munroe and Neil Fullick)