'Atomic Anne' Lauvergeon stays in power at Areva: source

6th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

The head of French nuclear group Areva "Atomic Anne" Lauvergeon, a top woman in global business, is to stay in her post, a source close to the matter said, countering rumours she was to be pushed out.

France is expected to announce soon big decisions on the structure and strategy of its world-leading nuclear power industry.

And the decision now to retain Lauvergeon at least until next June also removes a cause for controversy at a time when President Nicolas Sarkozy faces a political crisis over allegations that his party received illegal funding.

Sarkozy has decided to keep Lauvergeon in office, the source said late on Monday amid reports that she would go before her term ends in June 2011.

In North America, she is known as "Atomic Anne" and last year Forbes magazine ranked her as the ninth most powerful woman in the world in her capacity as the head of the world's leading nuclear engineering group.

Behind the rumours that Lauvergeon, charismatic and confrontational, might be heading for the door lie a number of factors.

She had difficult relations with the head of French electricity generator EDF, Henri Proglio, and together they failed to win a big contract in Abu Dhabi. Areva is also four years late with a pioneering nuclear construction project in Finland.

The rumours of her departure were particularly strong at the end of December when a consortium involving Areva failed to win a nuclear power construction project worth 20 billion dollars (16 billion euros) in Abu Dhabi.

Efforts to win the contract revealed disagreements between Lauvergeon and Proglio, as well as problems of coordination between the two giant companies.

Part of the significance of this is that Lauvergeon has been associated with left-wing governments, and Sarkozy oversees a centre-right administration, although she is respected by many right-wing members of parliament.

She has headed Areva for more than 10 years.

Aged 50, she studied at elite French educational establishments and qualified in high-level physics at the age of 21.

In 1990, at the age of 30, she was selected by the then Socialist President Francois Mitterrand as an expert on the international economy and soon afterwards she became his representative in organising international summits.

When right-wing Jacques Chirac became French president in 1995, she joined Lazard Freres bank in New York and was then deputy director general of Alcatel Telecom.

In 1999, when the Socialists were back in government, she was appointed head of French nuclear company Cogema, the French nuclear fuel retreatment company.

In 2001, she oversaw the merger of Cogema and Framatome, into Areva, the leading world nuclear group with interests from uranium mines to the retreatment of used nuclear fuel.

Most of the electricity consumed in France is generated by nuclear power distributed by EDF, which is the biggest nuclear generator in the world. Areva builds the infrastructure and is the world leader in this field.

A report on the future of French civil nuclear power up to 2030 was handed to the French presidential office in mid May and was classified as a defence secret.

The newspaper Les Echos has reported that the author, former EDF chief executive Francois Roussely, recommended the creation of a giant holding in the general public interest that would pull together all of the main interests in the French nuclear industry in order to "defend the French flag abroad."

Sarkozy's office said at the end of May, that the report would be followed by decisions "in coming weeks."

In June, Areva suffered a second setback when credit rating agency Standard and Poor's downgraded its notation owing to delays in the construction of a so-called third-generation EPR (European pressurised reactor) reactor at Olkiluoto in Finland.

The company has had to make a provision of 2.7 billion dollars for this project, which is now running nearly four years late.

© 2010 AFP

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