NEW YORK (AP) – General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd. on Monday launched a joint nuclear business to capitalize on rising demand for electricity and increasing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants.

John Krenicki, president and chief executive of GE Energy, said at a news conference that nuclear plants produce virtually no carbon gases and reactors can take the place of aging power plants that rely on fossil fuels.

“We believe nuclear is going to step in and we’re getting ready to execute that plan,” he said.

Customers seeking fuel diversity to avoid relying on oil and coal are helping to build a market for nuclear energy, Krenicki said. And nuclear energy could become more attractive if Congress and state legislatures eventually impose a carbon tax to discourage carbon-producing plants, he said.

The GE-Hitachi alliance plans to spend between $350 million and $400 million for nuclear plant designs and certification. The designs, which have been in the works for about 11 years, are expected to be completed by 2010, said Andy White, chief executive of GE Energy Nuclear.

Except for in Japan, the business that will operate internationally is 60 percent owned by GE and 40 percent by Hitachi.

In Japan, the business will be about 80 percent owned by Hitachi and approximately 20 percent by GE.

GE and Hitachi, which agreed last November to establish the venture, say they are combining their nuclear businesses to provide advanced boiling water reactor plants and related services. The businesses also will offer equipment and services for pressurized water reactors, a light-water reactor design.

The two companies have worked together since the 1980s to develop reactors in Asia. GE brings to the partnership its expertise in designing boiling water reactor plants and Hitachi’s strengths are in manufacturing reactor components and construction methods, White said.

GE officials said polls show public support for construction of nuclear plants, though chief executive Jeffrey Immelt cautioned that broad acceptance of nuclear energy may take time.

There are 100 nuclear power plants in the United States, but an order has not been placed for a new reactor since 1973. The United States now gets about 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear reactors.