Norms and Values
Shutdown of Germany's Nuclear Power Industry

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.
When Disasters and Epidemics Become a New Normal
Oleg Barabanov
Over the past half century, or in the 75 years since the end of World War II, the human community has developed at an unprecedented speed. The scientific and technological revolution led to a real breakthrough in the field of transport communications; the Internet and mobile communications not only caused a revolution, but also qualitatively changed the areas of trade, investment, etc. Globalisation, understood not only as a single system of world trade, but as a new quality of mobility and the interconnectedness of people, has become a reality that transcends state borders.

The essence of this theory, developed primarily in the works of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, can be summarised as follows. In conditions where human society is witnessing constant technological progress, people are increasingly losing effective control over equipment, technologies and healthcare. This is both due to the imperfection of human nature, and due to the ever-increasing complexity of technical systems, which therefore lend themselves to less and less control and forecasting in all areas. As a result, technology-related and man-made accidents, catastrophes and epidemics are practically becoming the norm rather than the exception. Therefore, the specificity of the evolution of human society in the conditions of the 21st century is determined by the fact that the risk of these accidents becomes a constant factor that must be calculated and plans must be made in advance for their probability; preparing an effective response among state and economic systems has emerged as another constant factor. The Covid pandemic, incidentally, has shown that the effectiveness of this willingness to take risks is far from always the same as what society expects from the state. As a result, the global society of the 21st century itself can be classified, according to this logic, as a risk society. Germany's phasing out of nuclear energy is one of the biggest examples supporting arguments in favour of this theory.

On the other hand, another feature of human nature (and state administrative mechanisms) is the ability to quickly forget about disasters as soon as their first consequences have been eliminated. This, in our opinion, was quite revealing in the field of nuclear energy. A few years after Chernobyl, and then a few years after Fukushima, the phobias facing nuclear power plants generated by these accidents, began to quickly fade away. This regularity was very actively used by nuclear energy lobbyists all over the world, as well as individual segments of the expert community in different countries of the world associated with them (or, as some would say, “corrupted” by them). The Valdai Club has already turned its attention to this aspect.
Morality and Law
Fukushima Disaster Ten Years On: Risk to Society and Academic Hypocrisy
Oleg Barabanov
We are all seeing a renewed surge of interest in the concept of a global risk society right now in connection with the coronavirus pandemic. After Chernobyl and Fukushima, this virus has become the third global example for its practical verification, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.

It is in this context, in our opinion, that the ever-increasing trend towards the "greening" of nuclear energy should be assessed. Moreover, in the process of transition to hydrogen energy (as the most important component of the global green transformation), the status of "green hydrogen", i.e. hydrogen produced using environmentally friendly energy sources, is increasingly beginning to be applied to hydrogen produced by nuclear power plants. This trend over the past couple of years has been clearly visible at the annual global climate change summits.

So, Germany’s rejection of nuclear energy does not necessarily reflect rejection on a global scale. The example of Germany is unlikely to be followed by other large countries in a way that affects a significant segment of nuclear energy in the near future. Within the global risk society, other countries have chosen a different strategy. Who in the end will be right, Germany or others, the future will show. Until now, as is known, only two countries have completely abandoned nuclear energy. They are Italy after the 1987 referendum, around the time of Chernobyl’s peak in risk society awareness. And Lithuania, where the closure of the Soviet nuclear power plant with Chernobyl-style RBMK reactors was one of the conditions for joining the EU. Germany will be the third, and, as it seems today, the last one.
The Influence of Politics on Energy: A Crisis of Market Relations
Konstantin Simonov
On July 2, the first day of the international conference Global Energy and International Political Risks co-hosted by the Valdai Discussion Club and Azerbaijans Center of Analysis of International Relations, experts discussed the impact of global political shifts on the world energy sector.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.