The German government’s decision to close all its nuclear plants in a decade will lead to greater dependence on fossil fuels, increase carbon emissions and require imported atomic power, French officials said.
“Germany will be even more dependent on fossil fuels and imports and its electricity will be more expensive and polluting,” French Industry Minister Eric Besson said in a statement. German households pay twice as much for power than homes in France, where 80 percent of electricity comes from atomic plants, he said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition today announced that all the country’s 17 reactors will close by 2022, reversing a plan pushed through parliament last year to extend the operation of the facilities by an average of 12 years. Merkel said in March that Japan’s Fukushima disaster, the worst nuclear crisis since 1986, forced her to rethink her support for atomic power.
“It’s hard to see how they will replace the energy,” Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive officer of state-run Areva SA, the world’s biggest maker of nuclear equipment, said on BFM Radio. “I’m not sure there is enough Polish coal, and it creates carbon problems. Alternative energy sources are intermittent sources. I think they will do what Austria did in its time: import nuclear electricity from neighboring countries.”
The move “will result in higher electricity costs in Germany, with consequences for industry,” said Lauvergeon.
Germany is Europe’s largest power market, followed by France. Germany last year was a net exporter of power to France, sending 16.1 terawatt hours to the country compared with imports of 9.4 terawatt hours, according to data published by grid operator Reseau de Transport d’Electricite.
This trend was reversed last month following the accident at Fukushima and the subsequent decision by Merkel to halt Germany’s oldest reactors. In April, France was a net exporter of power to Germany for the first time since the summer months of June, July and August last year, according to RTE.
Merkel has repeatedly said that Germany must remain a net exporter of energy, stressing that there is no point closing German nuclear plants only to import nuclear power from other countries.
France has increasingly imported power in recent years amid cold snaps and heat waves when base electricity provided by Electricite de France SA’s 58 atomic reactors needs to supplemented by thermal or renewable sources.
EDF is developing a new atomic plant at Flamanville in Normandy and has plans for another in northern France at Penly. Since the Fukushima disaster in March, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is facing an election next year, has vowed to continue to invest in the atomic industry.
Carole Trivi, spokeswoman for EDF, the largest power producer in Europe and its largest operator of nuclear plants, declined to comment on the German government’s decision.
Unlike in Germany, polls have shown the French to be more ambivalent about nuclear energy. A TNS Sofres poll in March indicated just 19 percent of respondents wanting a rapid reversal of the country’s reliance on atomic power.
“There’s a sensitivity, a passion about this issue that is unique in Germany,” Lauvergeon said. “This was a totally political decision, even if polls do show that it was supported by public opinion.”