France abolishes nuclear targets and targets Germans as customers

Germany has shut down, but neighboring France wants to speed up the construction of new nuclear reactors. The National Assembly in Paris has now passed a law that provides for fewer bureaucratic hurdles for the construction of six new reactors by 2035, as announced by President Emmanuel Macron.

They are to be erected in the vicinity of existing nuclear power plants and the approval procedures for this are to be shortened. The urgency is not least necessary because France expects to be able to supply more electricity to Germany in the long term.

The French are taking the exact opposite path from that taken by the Germans. In this country, the last reactors were shut down in April. With the political end for nuclear fission, German industry has also said goodbye to the topic. Research and startups that have been in this field have turned their backs on the country.

France is getting rid of its nuclear targets and want to build new reactors more quickly

Quite different in France: 399 MPs voted for the law to build crane power plants faster, in addition to Macron’s ruling party, the right-wing populists from the Rassemblement National, the conservative Republicans and the communists. 100 no votes came from the Greens and left-wing populists. The Socialists abstained.

In addition to shorter approval procedures, the new law also abolishes the goal that has been in force since 2015 of reducing the share of nuclear power from more than 70 to 50 percent by 2035. In addition, the maximum limit for nuclear power decided at the same time, which was previously 63 gigawatts, will be overturned.

Macron justifies his expansive nuclear policy with the fact that nuclear power is low in emissions and contributes to an independent energy supply. However, environmentalists are outraged: Greenpeace spoke of a restart of the nuclear industry, which France enforced “by force”.

France sent 1.4 million megawatt hours of electricity to Germany in May

Energy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher disagrees. In Parliament, she said: “Reviving our nuclear power industry means protecting the environment. How can you call yourself an environmentalist if you prefer fossil fuels to carbon-free energies?” The goal is to create the ability to produce – and export – electricity at competitive costs.

According to data from the Federal Network Agency, France exported around 1.4 million megawatt hours of electricity to Germany in May, the first full month after the German power plants were switched off. The country has 56 nuclear power plants and is the second largest nuclear power producer in the world after the USA.

Pannier-Runacher is currently in talks with 15 European countries about the “nuclear alliance” founded by France. Among other things, she is working towards reducing dependency on Russian nuclear fuel, because Russia is still an important supplier of uranium and trade is not subject to any sanctions. Germany is not represented in the circle of the “Nuclear Alliance”.

“The research field of nuclear fission is de facto no longer taking place in Germany”

In this country, at least when it comes to energy production from nuclear fission, there is a dance of death. One of the last experts in the field is Markus Roth, physics professor and head of the Institute for Nuclear Physics at the Technical University of Darmstadt. “In fact, nuclear fission research no longer takes place in Germany,” he says. “Even for the decommissioning of the nuclear power plants, we hardly have any more experts.”

Looking at France, he states: “It will continue in other countries. German startups from this area have therefore already migrated, for example to Canada. And even the big German corporations like Siemens are letting the topic rest.”

However, Roth still has a trump card up his sleeve. He is the scientific director of Focused Energy, a company that was founded as a spin-off from the university and has now attracted international attention with its research into laser-assisted nuclear fusion.

A glimmer of hope for nuclear fusion: “The train leaves the station and starts rolling”

In contrast to nuclear fission, research into nuclear fusion will also continue to be supported by the federal government because this may open up a clean source of energy for the future. “As a company, we are global leaders in the field of laser fusion,” says Roth, and even the German federal government has listened to him.

“When it comes to state subsidies, this was not politically wanted in Germany for a long time. Part of the technology was classified because it can also be used militarily. But that is changing now that our process has no military component. The train leaves the station and starts rolling. We hope it picks up speed.”

Jean Harris

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