French President Nicola Sarkozy is bucking the trend against nuclear energy that has seized France's neighbors, Germany and Italy. Sarkozy, announcing a major national investment package, also announced that France would invest over €1 billion in nuclear energy including a fourth-generation nuclear reactor.
Italy recently voted in a referendum not to go back to nuclear energy and Germany is going to deactivate all 17 of its nuclear reactors by 2022. This trend reflects public sentiment in the two countries galvanized by the disasters in Japan. Another French neighbor that is going a similar route is Switzerland.
It is not that French citizens are unaware of the dangers from a nuclear meltdown. Thousands of demonstrators converged on France's oldest nuclear plant at Fessenheim on Sunday. The facility has been in operation since 1977. Demonstrators cited a vulnerability to earthquakes and flooding that proved the undoing of the Japanese Fukushima reactor.
Since the site is near the German border, the majority of the demonstrators were German but they enjoyed the support of France's Socialist party (PS) and the Greens (Verts).
This is part of the problem that the ecological movement faces – its identification with the left part of the political spectrum. One of the best-known Greens in France is Daniel Cohen-Bendit, the star of the 1968 student demonstrations in France during which he was referred to as "Danny the Red".
Another factor is that France is heavily invested in the nuclear energy that accounts for 74% of its power with enough left over for exports to Germany.
The French president defended the decision by explaining to reporters "there is no alternative to nuclear energy today." He hedged the decision by announcing that France would invest €1.35 billion in renewable carbon free energy.
France intends to invest in nuclear security for which it has acquired, according to Sarkozy, an enviable reputation. France would not put all its eggs into one basket but "develop the totality of these sectors so that the French people and French industry would have a competitive energy industry and so the French could have energy at a price that preserved their purchasing power." It is also a matter of preserving French independence.
For Sarkozy solar energy was still not competitive and to fall back on fossil fuel sources of energy would mean unacceptable pollution. A statement put out by the Palais de L'élysée explained "Global climate change is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. To combat this, France has several industrial powerhouses to fight it, first and foremost of which is the nuclear power industry and numerous companies and laboratories developing renewable energies."