Franco-German Nuclear Divide
Germany Shuts Reactors; France Boosts Them

Germany has closed down its nuclear reactors and confronts a power shortage. France is touting its safe nuclear reactors.

Amiel Ungar,

French reactor
French reactor

France is not about to build additional nuclear reactors to capitalize on Germany's energy shortage. France is interested above all in securing her own energy independence. This was the pronouncement by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon upon visiting a French reactor in eastern France that is supplying energy to Germany.

“France’s goal isn’t to build nuclear reactors for Germany. I’m not saying there won’t be energy exchanges between France and Germany but what must be made clear is that the solution to Germany’s energy future isn’t in the building of nuclear reactors in France," Fillon stressed.

As a result of the Japanese nuclear disaster, German public opinion called for closing down nuclear sites in Germany and the government has given in. Nuclear power will not even be allowed as a backup. Germany, despite having crossed the 20% mark in generating electricity from renewable sources (solar, wind, hydroelectric and others), confronts the possibility of blackouts, particularly in the event of a severe winter.

To meet the shortfall, Germany is importing nuclear energy from both France and the Czech Republic. This policy is a contradiction in terms, because France and the Czech Republic border upon Germany. so that the repercussions of a nuclear disaster in either of those countries will not spare Germany.

Other equally unpalatable options are to import electricity generated by polluting coal or to purchase additional natural gas from Russia. increasing dependence on Putin. So far, the main result of these decisions has been layoffs at German utility companies that relied on nuclear energy.

The French are taking a nuanced position on the nuclear power issue. France has a serious commitment to nuclear power and derives 75% of its electric power from nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors are also a major French export industry.

Instead of succumbing to the nuclear panic, France hopes to gain from it by prodding the International Atomic Energy Agency to insist on stringent standards and stress tests for nuclear reactors.

The proposal, as the French already realize, is useless because it relies on national governments to do the policing rather than having an international body perform the tests.

This does not worry the French as they believe that their tough standards, to which the French reactors already conform, constitute an effective selling point for French built reactors.

Still, France is not free and clear on nuclear energy. The French Socialists (who must take into account the fact that the "Greens" are part of any Socialist-led coalition) are pushing to reduce French dependence on nuclear power from 75% to 50%.

President Sarkozy has also compromised by allocating money for investment in renewable fuels to go along with nuclear power.