Only very brave businessmen risk disappointing Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister. Siemens’ decision this week to abandon its ambition to build nuclear plants with Russia’s state-owned Rosatom therefore required handling with some care.
Peter Löscher, the German engineering conglomerate’s chief executive, explained in a magazine interview that the move was in response to Germany’s decision to close the country’s 17 nuclear power stations by 2022. Mr Löscher has established a close relationship with Mr Putin, however, and views Russia as a key growth market. So there must have been considerable relief that after weeks of sensitively handled negotiations, the Russian side bore no grudge. “[In Russia] one understands the primacy of politics,” Mr Löscher explained.
Siemens and Rosatom signed a memorandum of understanding in 2009 with a view to forming a joint venture to capitalise on the renaissance of nuclear power. But since the Japanese earthquake in March and the resulting meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, prospects for the nuclear industry no longer appear so rosy. Moreover, Siemens’ desire to be a pioneer in green technology sat uncomfortably with its involvement with nuclear technology – particularly in Germany where there is huge public opposition to atomic power. Siemens and Rosatom are now set to work together in other fields, including nuclear medicine. Siemens will also continue to supply turbines for nuclear power stations, just as it does for coal and gas-fired plants. However, Siemens will not build or finance nuclear plants. As Mr Löscher put it: “The chapter for us is closed.”