More shakeups in the French nuclear industry

Though her supporters had lobbied for another term, “Atomic” Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of French nuclear giant Areva, has been  officially replaced by Luc Oursel.

The French government, which owns 90 per cent of the company, made the announcement two weeks ago, but it wasn’t until yesterday that Areva officially announced the guard change, reported AFP:

“It was widely believed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy did not want her to continue in the post.

‘The group’s Supervisory Board thanks Anne Lauvergeon very warmly for the work she accomplished over the past 10 years to turn Areva into a global leader in nuclear power and carbon-free energies,’ the company said in a statement.”

Reuters was less subtle in its analysis of the situation:

“The replacement of Areva’s charismatic head by a top executive little known outside the company ends a drawn-out battle over the group’s top job but offers no clues on how Areva plans to overcome project delays after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

According to Reuters, relations between Sarkozy and Lauvergeon soured considerably after she rejected his offer to become finance minister in 2007–a job which was later given to new IMF head Christine Lagarde.

Some are crying foul now–the French government has landed in hot water before for supposedly meddling in corporate affairs: in 2008 it moved to kickstart a merger between Gaz de France and Suez, and put auto maker Renault under investigation in 2010 when the company announced plans to build a new plant in Turkey.

Not helping matters is the fact that 17 out of 19 members of Areva’s executive board signed a letter urging Lauvergeon’s reappointment, addressed to the company’s supervisory board Chairman Jean Cyril Spinetta. Lauvergeon was described as the only person with the skills and qualities to lead Areva in the years to come.

Major bummer for a company that will likely struggle with the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan for decades to come.

Read more about French politics in the latest issue of the Carnet Atlantique.

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