The continuing energy crisis has caused a schism between France and Germany regarding nuclear power expansion
France is exploring a new strategy to shore up its energy mix as energy costs continue to rise and shortages put strain on energy infrastructure. President Emmanuel Macron is set to authorize the building of six small modular nuclear reactors soon, according to The Financial Times.
Despite Macron’s early announcements of the retirement of 14 reactors and plans to reduce nuclear’s share to France’s energy mix from 75% to 50% by 2035, the present energy crisis appears to have prompted a rethink. The move may have been motivated more by political expediency (France’s support for nuclear power has grown by 17 percentage points in the previous two years) than by energy security concerns, but it has not been without criticism.
Aside from internal debates about France’s use of nuclear power, the choice to extend its presence pits France against important European allies such as Germany. After the Fukushima accident in 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that the government will phase out nuclear power by 2022. Germany went so far as to pay four businesses €2.8 billion in compensation for the early shutdown of its nuclear reactors in March of this year.
The dispute stems in part from a categorization issue and a single question: what constitutes renewable energy? Nuclear power should be counted as green energy, according to proponents such as France, the Czech Republic, and Finland, and thus be eligible for the same investment requirements as other renewable sources. The European Commission included hydropower in its criteria for clean power projects in April, after previously excluding it due to the environmental damage it may do, although nuclear power’s future remains uncertain.
“A careful alignment has to be established between the criteria of the taxonomy regulation, particularly the ‘do no significant harm’ standards, and the obligations of current law, such as the Water Framework Directive,” a Commission spokesman stated at the time.
“The criteria have been updated to ensure that they are more explicitly aligned with the Water Framework Directive.” We feel that the existing standards strike the proper balance between protecting ecosystems and water bodies while also boosting hydropower and reducing administrative burdens on users.”
Whether the laws can be tweaked to balance the advantages of hydropower with the risk of harm, many people will wonder if the same couldn’t be done for nuclear power. Tomorrow, the European Commission is expected to unveil a “toolbox” of measures that states may use to help with the energy problem, and it’s conceivable that it could mention nuclear power. However, with member states divided, codifying nuclear in the same manner as other energy sources such as wind is going to be an uphill struggle.