Vattenfall Europe sacks German nuclear chief

17th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

17 July 2007, Hamburg (dpa) - Swedish utility Vattenfall sacked Bruno Thomauske, the head of its German nuclear-power division, Monday after two weeks of charges that he had been too secretive about a fire at a reactor.

17 July 2007

Hamburg (dpa) - Swedish utility Vattenfall sacked Bruno Thomauske, the head of its German nuclear-power division, Monday after two weeks of charges that he had been too secretive about a fire at a reactor.

Gradual disclosures since June 28, when electrical defects shut down the company's reactors at Kruemmel and Brunsbuettel near Hamburg, have revealed that staff at Kruemmel were in crisis as a fire raged in a transformer.

Neither reactor was damaged and no radioactivity was released, but Vattenfall - and the whole nuclear industry in Germany - suffered a public relations disaster.

The company said it was commissioning an independent inquiry by scientists and business experts with a budget of 5 million euros (6.8 million dollars) to examine exactly what happened.

"We will implement all of its recommendations," Vattenfall said, promising to win back public trust and ensure past mistakes never recurred.

Vattenfall said the Kruemmel plant would remain idle till all the recommended changes had been implemented.

But an aide to German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel criticised Vattenfall.

"That's the usual answer, sacrificing someone who indeed was a bit clumsy with the public. But what is needed is a reform of their fundamentals," said state secretary Michael Mueller in an NTV television interview.

The company's Vattenfall Europe subsidiary is one of Germany's four main utilities, operating main city grids and numerous fossil and nuclear-powered generating stations.

The company said the removal of Thomauske as head of its Vattenfall Nuclear Energy (VENE) division took place "in close cooperation with the Swedish parent."

While a statement merely said that Thomauske was being relieved of his duties, a Vattenfall Europe spokesman explained that Thomauske would not be transferred to any new duties.

For the past two weeks, Thomauske has insisted to the media that he and his staff coped well with the crisis.

But the company has told authorities that a verbal misunderstanding led to an operator opening valves the wrong way and that toxic fumes from the fire outside were sucked into the control room till staff turned off fans.

Thomauske's functions would be temporarily taken over by Reinhardt Hassa, Vattenfall Europe board member for power generation, the company said.

Johannes Altmeppen, the head of public relations at Vattenfall Europe, resigned.

Although Vattenfall has published detailed internal reports on the internet, its image hit a fresh low last week when police visited the Kruemmel reactor, saying Vattenfall refused to name the operator during the fire.

Greenpeace, the environmentalist group which is fiercely anti-nuclear, said Thomauske's removal because of line-of-command errors was not enough.

"It doesn't fix the fundamental problem," said Thomas Breuer, calling for Vattenfall to decommission both power stations.

Greens party federal energy spokesman Hans-Josef Fell said Thomauske was just a scapegoat.

In Stockholm, Vattenfall headqurters said after the announcement that it had confidence in the German subsidiary.


DPA

Subject: German news

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