PARIS (Reuters) - Struggling French nuclear engineering group Areva AREVA.PA said on Monday its Chairman and Chief Executive Luc Oursel had decided to step down for health reasons.
A statement from the company which makes reactors and supplies nuclear fuel gave no indication of timing, or about who might take over the reins.
Officials of the state-controlled company did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters about this latest upheaval at the top of the nation's big energy companies.
"Under these very difficult personal circumstances, and despite my very strong commitment to Areva. I have had no choice but to hand over my responsibilities at the head of the company and have chosen to take a leave of absence in order to pursue treatment," the Areva statement quoted 55 year-old Oursel as saying.
Oursel was appointed in 2011 to a board whose members are appointed for five year terms, but the government said this year it intends to introduce a new corporate governance structure which would have brought his current mandate to an end in December.
Industry and government sources have told Reuters that Oursel may not have survived that change.
Oursel has run the company since 2011, but pressure has mounted on him this year as the group, more than 85 percent-owned by the government, struggles to sell new reactors and suffers under heavy debts.
On Oct. 7, Areva said it planned to cut capital spending by 200 million euros ($255.6 million) over the next two years in a bid to strengthen its financial structure and head of a damaging debt downgrade.
Monday's statement said Oursel would remain available in order to ensure the best possible transition.
At the helm of Areva since 2011, Oursel had sought to mend ties with state-owned utility EDF (EDF.PA), a key customer. The relationship had turned sour during the mandate of his high-profile predecessor, Anne Lauvergeon, who did not get along well with EDF CEO Henri Proglio.
Proglio is also due to go. The government announced last week he would be replaced by Jean-Bernard Levy, head of the defense electronics group Thales.
(This story corrects paragraph six to show Oursel was appointed in 2011 to a board whose members have five-year terms)
Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Callus and David Holmes