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13 Oct 2021, 13:18
Benjamin Wehrmann

Macron’s nuclear plans illustrate Franco-German rift in EU energy policy – op-ed

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

The announcement by French President Emmanuel Macron to ramp up the country’s hydrogen production capacity and invest in the development of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) is a sign of deepening divergence between France's and Germany's vision of the EU's future energy policy, Michaela Wiegel writes in an op-ed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “The times of a timid request for a joint German-French venture are over,” Wiegel writes, arguing that France “no longer wants to adapt to German ideas in important fields of the future like energy and climate.” Macron called nuclear power “a bliss,“ as it would allow his country to boast one of the lowest carbon emission levels of all EU countries. The French president said the country would invest one billion euros in SMR development, a “technology of the future” that promises greater security and less nuclear waste than conventional reactors. The president also announced investments of 500 million euros in renewables and said the country would build two large hydrogen production facilities by 2030. France under Macron has also watered down its phase-out schedule for older nuclear plants and postponed a deadline for the closure of about a dozen reactors by ten years to 2035. “In the light of record prices for gas and other fossil fuels, Macron is celebrating a renaissance of nuclear energy,” in which he wants France and Europe to take a leading role, Wiegel writes. A recent announcement by France and several other EU countries illustrated that the government in Paris wants to send a signal to the next government in Berlin that an EU-wide nuclear exit is far from being a common goal, she argues. While Macron’s nuclear push is seen as critical by French parties like the Greens, it could help the president curry favour with conservative voters in the upcoming presidential elections next year, Wiegel adds.

France currently sources about 70 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants, whereas Germany will shut down its last reactor at the end of 2022 and plans to fully focus on renewables to decarbonise its energy system. Both countries so far lack a final repository for their radioactive waste. The dispute over nuclear power between the two countries has been a major obstacle for the introduction of an EU-wide sustainable finance taxonomy meant to classify which forms of energy generation can be considered clean investments.  

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