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France

Luc Oursel, the French PM's choice to head Areva

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Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-06-17

Luc Oursel, French nuclear giant Areva’s marketing head, has become the government’s top pick to head the energy group. His predecessor, "Atomic Anne" Lauvergeon, is used to being in the news. But what do we know about her dark horse successor?

Marketing chief Luc Oursel was nominated late on Thursday to the post of director general at French nuclear giant Areva. The announcement came on the heels of the announcement that Areva’s current head, the controversial “Atomic” Anne Lauvergeon, was unceremoniously denied a third term at the helm of the company.


Oursel was hand picked by French Prime Minister François Fillon, who made the announcement via an official press release on Thursday evening. The French state holds a 90 percent share in Areva.


But despite earning the stamp of government approval, Oursel’s candidacy for the post will be subject to a decision by Areva’s supervisory board.


Oursel, currently Areva’s head of marketing and international projects – a post he has held since January – will face several challenges if he takes the helm. For one thing, the troubles plaguing the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan have renewed widespread mistrust of nuclear energy as a safe alternative to fossil fuels. In the wake of Fukushima’s problems, some nations – including Germany, Italy and Switzerland – have scaled back or cancelled plans for increasing their reliance on nuclear power.


Another challenge Oursel faces is scepticism of his qualifications for taking the top post at a nuclear energy company. Unlike Lauvergeon, Oursel has a minimal background in nuclear development. His first real experience in the field was at Areva, which he joined in 2007. He was trained as a mining engineer at the French School of Mines, one of France’s elite schools. His expertise in natural energy sources led to a post as adviser to the French industry minister in 1988, serving as an expert on electricity, gas and coal.


He subsequently held several high-ranking posts from 1993 to 2002 at French corporation Schneider Electric before joining an engineering group and a later stint at a logistical provider. But despite his solid background in other areas of energy, Oursel will have to prove himself when he becomes Areva’s director general.


“This could herald trouble at Areva,” one analyst told AFP. “Oursel will have to convince everyone that the state chose the right candidate.”

And some feel that Lauvergeon’s sacking – and Oursel’s nomination – were politically unsavoury.

“It’s not appropriate for the French government to make an announcement about industrial executive appointments,” said Roland Desbordes, president of the Commission for Independent Research and Information, a French NGO.  “Such announcements should be made by the company’s administrative board – not by François Fillon, and not by [President] Nicolas Sarkozy.”


Desbordes said that, moreover, Oursel’s appointment may have been a strategic blunder on Areva's part. “I don’t feel it’s a very good plan to pick a new director general in the middle of a storm – and nuclear power is facing a storm right now,” he said.

 

Date created : 2011-06-17

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