Different paths for nuclear

Energodigest | 20 April 2023
For the last two years Europe has been struggling with the energy crunch, sparked by geopolitical unrest and the decision to give up Russian imports. While the nuclear option, which is perceived as one of the few viable solutions, has been on the discussion table for quite some time, Europeans are still divided on whether it is the right way forward.

The public acceptance of the ‘peaceful atom’ is the highest in France, one of the top players on the global nuclear front. With 297 TWh produced in 2022 (see Fig. 1), it generated 63% of its electricity from nuclear power, the largest share in the world (see Fig. 2). And the French are determined to maintain the momentum. This March, the National Assembly adopted the ‘nuclear acceleration’ bill in the first reading[1] with a view to speeding up new builds, while a month earlier France and ten other EU countries committed to cooperate more closely across the entire nuclear supply chain, having signed a declaration to “support new projects, notably based on innovative technologies, as well as the operation of existing power plants.”[2]
At the other end of the spectrum is Germany, where nuclear accounts for just above 6% of the domestic energy mix. Back in 2002, it adopted a law banning new nuclear power plants, with the remaining three – Isar 2, Neckarwestheim 2 and Emsland[3] – shut down last weekend. This move has evoked a mixed response from the public. More than twenty international scientists, including Nobel laureates, called on the German Chancellor in an open letter[4] to keep the remaining plants online, while a survey by the opinion research institute YouGov has found that only 26% of Germans fully support a complete phase-out of nuclear power.[5]

As Germany bids such a resolute farewell to nuclear power, the question arises as to how it is going to replace it. Today, the two available options are wind and coal, which accounted for 22% and 31% of the country’s power mix in 2022, respectively (see Fig. 3). While the former fits well into Germany’s climate agenda as it aims for 100% renewable power by 2035,[6] the latter could prompt major concerns. But by the looks of it, Germany has no other choice – at least for now.
Subscribe to Moscow Energy Center mailings