Siemens Rethinks Nuclear Ambitions

By VANESSA FUHRMANS  |  The Wall Street Journal  |  Link to article

German engineering giant Siemens AG is considering whether to abandon its goal of becoming a major player in the atomic-power industry, according to people familiar with the matter, as Japan’s nuclear crisis continues to unfold.

While top executives at Siemens haven’t made any decisions or proposed a pullback to its supervisory board, they have been rethinking the company’s two-year-old plan to form a partnership with the Russian State Atomic Energy Corp., or Rosatom, these people said. That plan has been the centerpiece of Siemens’s nuclear strategy.

The second thoughts at Siemens show how swiftly the accident at the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan has upended the nuclear-energy revival that the company and its rivals had expected amid rising global energy demand and concerns about global warming.

While others in the nuclear industry, such as General Electric Co. and Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric Co. unit, have continued to express confidence in the future of atomic power, Siemens executives have been more guarded in their public comments in recent weeks.

Nuclear Industry’s Other Big Hurdle: Finance Access thousands of business sources not available on the free web. Learn More “Fukushima has to be an occasion for taking stock [of nuclear energy],” Siemens finance chief Joe Kaeser told Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel newspaper in an interview this week.

“The world has to do some soul-searching,” he added, but declined to elaborate on Siemens’ own nuclear aims.

Some senior officials at Siemens, whose businesses range from high-speed trains to medical-imaging equipment, were already skeptical about the potential for a so-called nuclear renaissance. Even before the Fukushima crisis, many nuclear-reactor projects around the world were stalled or mired in cost-overruns. Since the crisis, those doubts have grown as many countries have started reviews or frozen plans to build new nuclear plants.

Siemens’s nuclear strategy has always been complicated by antinuclear sentiment in Germany, home to nearly a third of its work force. There, the Fukushima accident sparked massive street protests against a government move to extend the working lives of Germany’s nuclear reactors. In response, Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered the temporary shutdown of seven reactors within days of the first blasts at the Japanese plant.

Some Siemens senior officials and employees also worry the company’s nuclear ambitions appear increasingly at odds with Chief Executive Peter Löscher’s efforts to make it a leader in environmentally friendly infrastructure—from smart electricity grids to wind turbines to solar thermal power plants.

Last month, Siemens unveiled a restructuring aimed at bolstering its position in those markets, particularly “green” urban infrastructure, which it hopes will propel its annual sales past €100 billion ($145 billion) within a few years, up from €76 billion in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2010. (full article)