Vattenfall fires German nuclear head

Vattenfall, the Swedish state-owned power monopoly, on Monday dismissed the head of its nuclear energy operations in Germany after incidents at two nuclear power stations in the country that threatened a political backlash against the industry.

The departure of Bruno Thomauske, managing director of Vattenfall Europe Nuclear Energy, followed communication failures and clashes with German authorities after a fire at the Krümmel nuclear power station and a short-circuit at Brunsbüttel, another power station also in north Germany.

Both incidents took place a few hours apart on June 28, apparently coincidentally. Berlin had said licences to operate the plants could be withdrawn.

The case has intensified the debate over the future of nuclear power in Europe’s largest economy, strengthening the hand of those in the ruling coalition of Angela Merkel, the chancellor, who oppose moves to rethink the country’s planned withdrawal of atomic energy.

Lars Josefsson, Vattenfall’s chief executive who admitted Vattenfall had misjudged the information it needed to give to the public, is a special adviser on climate change to Ms Merkel.

Eon, the German utility, owns 50 per cent of the Krümmel and 33 per cent of the Brunsbüttel power stations, but Vattenfall has responsibility for their operation. The Krümmel power station remains out of action.

On Monday, Vattenfall said it would this week launch its own inquiry into the events. It also announced the resignation of Johannes Altmeppen, head of corporate communications at Vattenfall Europe.

Gitta Trauernicht, minister in the state of Schleswig-Holstein responsible for nuclear safety, said the personnel changes were “corporate decisions that must lead to structural changes”.

■INCIDENTS THAT HAVE HURT CORPORATE NAMES

Compared to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, recent atomic energy problems have seemed minor. But several incidents have nevertheless hurt corporate reputations and prompted questions about the reliability of nuclear power, writes Rebecca Bream.

In Japan on Monday an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale caused a small radiation leak and fire at the world’s biggest nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said 1.5 litres of water containing radioactive materials had leaked from a unit at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant into the sea. The company said the leak had had no effect on the environment.

Last August, Vattenfall’s Forsmark nuclear reactor in Sweden had to be shut down after the failure of a back-up power system activated the reactor’s emergency systems.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, is due to inspect Sweden’s 10 nuclear reactors early next year.

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