Just two days after the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, U.K officials reportedly contacted energy companies warning that they could not allow the disaster to dent public support for nuclear power.

The Fukushima accident was first caused by the Japan earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, and after a series of explosions in the nuclear plant's reactors, 80,000 had to be evacuated from their homes.

Following the crisis, opinion polls suggest that the Fukushima crisis has dented public support for nuclear power in Britain and around the world, and soon after the incident, the governments of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Thailand and Malaysia cancelling planned nuclear power stations in the wake of the accident.

However, while the first images of the scene emerged in the media, according to The Guardian, which obtained the incriminating emails under freedom of information law, the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with multinational companies EDF Energy, Areva and Westinghouse.

The newspaper argues that the business department emailed the nuclear firms and their representative body, the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), on 13 March, two days after the disaster knocked out nuclear plants and their backup safety systems at Fukushima. The department argued it was not as bad as the "dramatic" TV pictures made it look, even though the consequences of the accident were still unfolding.

"Radiation released has been controlled - the reactor has been protected," said the BIS official, whose name has been blacked out. "It is all part of the safety systems to control and manage a situation like this."

In another exchange, a BIS official urged energy companies to make sure they were on the same page than the government, insisting that "We need to all be working from the same material to get the message through to the media and the public."

"This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally," wrote an official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted.

"We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses [sic] do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear."

Attempts were also being made to stop comparisons with the Chernobyl catastrophe, as an official wrote in an email to Areva "Anti-nuclear people across Europe have wasted no time blurring this all into Chernobyl and the works. We need to quash any stories trying to compare this to Chernobyl."

Despite attempt by the Japanese authorities to play down the Fukushima incident by initially rating it as level four on the international nuclear event scale, meaning it had "local consequences only, the crisis worsened and they had to increase it to level seven on 11 April, making it a major accident" and eventually putting it on a par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Then 80 emails released by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) also show that  the company admitted its new reactor, AP1000, "was not designed for earthquakes [of] the magnitude of the earthquake in Japan", and the   BIS warned it needed "a good industry response showing the safety of nuclear - otherwise it could have adverse consequences on the market".

Defending the firm's position, a spokesman for the DECC and BIS said: "Given the unprecedented events unfolding in Japan, it was appropriate to share information with key stakeholders, particularly those involved in operating nuclear sites. The government was very clear from the outset that it was important not to rush to judgment and that a response should be based on hard evidence. This is why we called on the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to provide a robust and evidence-based report."

A DECC source also played down the significance of the emails from the unnamed BIS official, saying: "The junior BIS official was not responsible for nuclear policy and his views were irrelevant to ministers' decisions in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake."

However, MPs and environmental activists rallied to criticise the emails.

Zac Goldsmith, the Tory MP and member of the Commons environmental audit committee, said: "The government has no business doing PR for the industry and it would be appalling if its departments have played down the impact of Fukushima."

Louise Hutchins, a spokeswoman for Greenpeace, said the emails looked like "scandalous collusion".

"This highlights the government's blind obsession with nuclear power and shows neither they, nor the industry, can be trusted when it comes to nuclear," she said.

Responding to the criticism a spokesperson for the government said: :‪ "Given the unprecedented events unfolding in Japan it was appropriate to share information with key stakeholders, particularly those involved in operating nuclear sites.‪

"The Government was very clear from the outset that it was important not rush to judgement and that a response should be based on hard evidence."

The Guardian revelations just came as a week ago, the government confirmed the plans for eight new nuclear stations in England and Wales would go ahead "If acceptable proposals come forward in appropriate places, they will not face unnecessary holdups," said the energy minister, Charles Hendry.