ARKANSAS, Oct 15 (Future Headlines)- In the vicinity of the French village of Fessenheim, adjacent to the Rhine River, a once-operational nuclear power station now sits dormant. German protestors, who had previously called for the plant’s closure, have relocated, and the last electricity generation was three years ago. However, discord persists over the plant’s future use, underscoring a deeper schism over nuclear power between France and Germany, the two nations on either side of the river.

The division between France and Germany regarding nuclear power has deep roots, developed over decades, and was notably exacerbated by the Chernobyl disaster in the USSR. Today, this rift has become a major point of contention in the sensitive relationship between Europe’s two largest economies.

France has traditionally been a staunch advocate of nuclear power. The nation derives two-thirds of its electricity from nuclear plants and plans to construct more reactors. France is battling to have low-carbon nuclear technology considered in its emissions reduction targets and to gain leeway to utilize state subsidies for the nuclear sector.

Germany, in contrast, shut down its last nuclear plants this year, influenced by factors including its prior reliance on Russian gas. The German government is concerned that a nuclear resurgence would divert attention and resources from renewable energy sources. Furthermore, Berlin is worried that Paris might gain an unfair competitive advantage if it can ensure lower electricity prices through its significant nuclear power production under new EU electricity market regulations.

7024256003 b59464ca1b b Future Headlines

The ongoing Franco-German dispute over nuclear power has significant ramifications for the trajectory of cleaner energy in Europe. It will affect how the European Union secures power supplies as it reduces its dependence on Russian gas and strives to provide affordable energy to its industries in competition with global powers like the United States and China.

This contentious issue has led to delays in critical EU policy debates, including those related to renewable energy and hydrogen production. Smaller EU member states are growing impatient, seeing the Franco-German disagreement as a roadblock to necessary decisions.

France’s firm commitment to nuclear power can be traced back to its decision to build civil and military nuclear programs after World War II. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were even discussions of creating European nuclear plants. A pivotal moment for France was the 1973 oil crisis, which prompted a wave of reactor construction.

Germany, on the other hand, began to develop an anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s, primarily driven by concerns over safety and environmental issues. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Germany committed to phasing out nuclear power.

German objections to France’s pro-nuclear strategy reflect a variety of factors, including a strong ideological stance, especially among the Green Party members within the governing coalition. Germany argues that it doesn’t oppose France’s right to generate nuclear energy but opposes the use of EU funds to support it. The safety of France’s aging nuclear plants and concerns over potential subsidies are other points of contention.

France’s desire to use various subsidies and incentives for its nuclear assets has fueled the debate. Berlin fears that France could gain a competitive edge by offering lower power prices through these subsidies. Germany’s proposal for a state-subsidized electricity tariff for energy-intensive industries has also raised concerns.

  • The EU’s Role and Struggles

While the European Commission maintains a “technology-neutral” stance, allowing national governments to decide on their energy policies, countries with nuclear fleets, like France, argue that renewable energy policies have been favored and that the potential of nuclear power has been overlooked.

Both France and Germany have expressed a willingness to resolve their differences, especially regarding the EU’s electricity market reform. However, the specifics of this potential resolution remain unclear, and energy experts are concerned about the implications of a subsidy war between the two nations.

Nuclear advocates are hoping for a more rational and serene debate about nuclear technology, recognizing its place alongside renewable energy. Policymakers are increasingly acknowledging that while nuclear power may not be considered “green,” it can play a role in achieving decarbonization goals.

Despite the current discord between France and Germany, the long-term future might see more nuanced discussions on the role of nuclear power in Europe’s energy landscape. However, the divide remains a faultline not only between nations but also within the larger context of the EU’s green energy ambitions.

Reporting by Sarah White