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Video: Concerns over nuke design not new

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    >> we return to that fukushima nuclear plant , which has been operating since 1971 . but in the wake of this disaster, we're beginning to hear that years, even decades earlier, there were grave concerns about the design of the reactors. and there are 23 similar models here in the u.s. our report tonight from our nbc news senior investigative correspondent, lisa myers .

    >> reporter: all the nuclear reactors and trouble in japan are the same design, known as the mark 1 . marketed by general electric in the '60s as less expensive and easier to build. ge is part owner of nbc universal .

    >> this is the reactor vessel .

    >> reporter: the design is all too familiar to dale bridenbaugh. 35 years ago he was a ge engineer involved with the mark 1 until he suddenly quit in 1976 , writing that he was alarmed by what he saw.

    >> i was concerned that there would be a major accident at one of the mark is. that the containment would be destroyed.

    >> reporter: the containment vessel is the last line of defense in the event of an accident, to keep radiation from escaping. there is growing concern that at least one of the containment vessels in japan may have ruptured. u.s. regulators in the '70s and '80s also expressed concerns about whether the mark i's containment was strong enough. ge said since those concerns most reactors have been upgraded, which experts agree improved safety. ge also says these plants have a proven track record of performing reliably and safely for more than 40 years. based on what is now known, experts say the biggest problem in japan wasn't the reactor design itself but that the tsunami knocked out all power, including backup systems. still, critics maintain that this reactor design remains less able to cope than more recent models, when things go terribly wrong.

    >> the mark is are more vulnerable to getting into severe, unexpected situations such as we've seen at fukushima .

    >> reporter: questions are also being raised about the japanese government and nuclear industry 's record. in 2002 tokyo electric power , which owns the fukushima reactors, admitted falsifying safety records at a number of nuclear plants .

    >> it does raise concerns that perhaps japan doesn't have as high a safety culture as it should have.

    >> reporter: japan 's anti-nuclear activists told us today, they warned of a disaster like this.

    >> we have been saying that much larger earthquakes could occur than the government has taken into account.

    >> reporter: these activists contend the japanese nuclear plants were underdesigned to save money. brian, we were unable to get a response today from tokyo electric power , but the company has said that it adheres to the highest safety standards .

    >> lisa myers in our d.c. newsroom tonight. lisa, thanks.

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