France has joined forces with nine other European countries to push for the expansion of nuclear energy. In view of the current energy crisis, this alliance is thus embarking on a path that is a countermovement to that of Germany. The European Union has acquired new political factions.
In 2011, after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima took its course in the wake of a tsunami, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with her unique sense of opportunism, recognized an excellent opportunity to build her support among the population. Knowing that nuclear power plants enjoyed a bad reputation in Germany anyway, reactions in this country were almost hysterical after the events in Japan.
So, with short decision-making, the German government made a 180° turn and resumed the course of its Red-Green predecessor government, which had wanted to let the contracts on the operating lives of nuclear power plants expire. It had initially withdrawn these, and the renewed change of course was accompanied by billions in compensation payments to the owners of the power plants. This marked Germany’s path to a nuclear-free future. Alongside the expansion of renewable energies and the (later) halting of coal-fired power plants, this became one of the central pillars of German energy policy.
However, the country is quite isolated in this path. Few countries in the world and even in Europe have similar plans; nuclear power plants offer enormous advantages, especially for emerging economies. And within the EU, France has always been the most influential advocate of using nuclear technology to generate energy.
Presumably, the prospect of the Green Party, a vehement opponent of nuclear power, joining the next government in Berlin has now spurred a number of European states into action. A total of ten states, including France and Poland, Germany’s most important partners within the Union, and eight other states in Central and Eastern Europe, are planning to expand nuclear power plants on the continent. This means that until at least the end of next year, the EU presidency will be held by one of these countries, currently Slovenia, then France in 2022 and the Czech Republic in the second half of that year. The other countries in the alliance are Finland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
Whether opposition to the use of nuclear energy will continue for long is extremely doubtful, independent of this new development. The events of the last months have shown impressively that the world is still very, very far away from being able to function without fossil energy sources. And among these, nuclear power has by far the best CO2 balance and is also very safe, contrary to its public image. Even within Germany, the voices insisting on a longer use of this energy source are slowly but surely becoming louder and louder.
For the European Union, we can only hope that the nations will be able to agree on a common course. The transformation that the world’s energy supply will undergo in the coming decades requires a coordinated approach from the European states. Otherwise, other powers will leave them behind in this field.