The closure of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants is scheduled for mid-April 2023. They were supposed to be shut down last autumn, but due to concerns about the instability of electricity production, it was decided to extend their operation through the winter season.
The final decision to phase out all nuclear power plants in Germany, as you may know, was made after the accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. In this respect, Germany differed from France, another large EU country with a high share of nuclear energy in total energy production. France limited itself to taking measures to strengthen safety control at its nuclear power plants, but decided not to shut down the plants themselves. Germany, under pressure from public opinion, did otherwise.
Perhaps it is difficult to say that anti-nuclear public opinion in France was less insistent than in Germany. The explanation for the difference in the approaches of these two countries, I think, should be sought in other things. On the one hand, probably, the nuclear status of France and its possession of nuclear weapons played an important role in the preservation of atomic energy generation in France. Since these two segments of the nuclear industry, civilian and military, are usually interconnected in one way or another, it is quite difficult to imagine a country with nuclear weapons that suddenly abandons its existing nuclear power plants from a technological, personnel, and psychological point of view. So, France decided not to serve as an example in this regard. Additionally, French companies are quite active in the global market for the construction and maintenance of nuclear power facilities. In some of its segments, they are among the leading players. It is obvious that French firms could lose their competitive advantages in the market, at least, again, from a psychological standpoint, if they continued to work at nuclear power plants abroad, while closing their own nuclear power plants.
Finally, in our opinion, the difference in the level of overall power generation between France and Germany should not be discounted, at least in terms of the perception of this level and its sustainability by the governments of these two countries. In the period immediately after Fukushima, Germany could feel much more confident than France in relation to the supply of non-nuclear energy sources to the country. Not least, this was due to Germany's large-scale access to Russian gas supplies. Its comparative cheapness and the long-term stability of contracts (as it seemed at that time), first, constituted an important competitive advantage for German industry, and, second, could lead to the feeling that the German energy balance would remain stable even without nuclear energy. In France, this was not the case. Both in terms of the scale of access to Russian gas, and because, traditionally, it was nuclear generation that occupied the leading place in the overall balance of energy production in France. According to IAEA estimates, in 2018 it accounted for more than 70% of all electricity production
According to this indicator, France significantly surpassed all other major countries in the world which use nuclear energy. It is clear that the rejection of the nuclear power plant would lead France to a much more serious restructuring of its entire economic system, in contrast to Germany.
If we consider the post-Fukushima decision of Germany to close the nuclear power plants in the general context, then, in our opinion, it fits very indicatively into the theory of risk society. Moreover, it serves here as one of the most striking examples. As we know, this risk society theory itself was developed in detail after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986. After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, it received additional development. During the Covid pandemic, the attention of experts and society was riveted to it once again. The experts of the Valdai Discussion Club dealt with this issue