Nuclear phase-out in Germany, nuclear expansion in France: the neighbors and close cooperation partners Berlin and Paris tick as differently on a few topics as when it comes to energy. While in Germany the last three reactors were shut down in April, France sees itself facing a renaissance in the expansion of nuclear power.

The responsible power company EDF, of all people, has caused problems with the major expansion plans in the past few months. This should be over now. As of today, the indebted problem child is again completely in the hands of the state. That should be good news for Germany.

Unstable supply situation

Flashback to last summer: Cracks and heat are causing problems in French piles and are causing some in political Berlin to break out in a sweat in the midst of the discussion about the continued operation of the last German nuclear power plants.

Because repair work is still being carried out on the outdated plants in France, only about half of the 56 nuclear power plants there produce electricity for months. Coupled with losses in hydropower, France in 2022 ultimately brought lower electricity production than it had in 30 years and forced the country in the middle of the energy crisis to import more electricity – including from Germany.

Paris now wants to let this unstable supply situation be history. “We can regain control of our electricity generation,” said France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire on the nationalization of EDF. The group is to boost production from last year’s 279 terawatt hours to 350 terawatt hours, and six new reactors are to be built as quickly as possible. France’s energy autonomy would thus be strengthened.

In Germany, there is hope that French electricity production will actually stabilize with the nationalization – and this despite the fact that cracks in piles were only discovered again in the spring and the control work is expected to continue until next spring. Because while Germany supplied France with electricity during the crisis and received natural gas in return, the current electricity market data from the Federal Network Agency show that the Federal Republic has been receiving more electricity from the neighboring country since May than it is selling.

“Need availability of French nuclear power”

“We absolutely need a high availability of French nuclear power in the next ten years,” said Eon boss Leonhard Birnbaum recently. “Because otherwise, the switch to renewables will be incredibly difficult for us.” If available, French nuclear power would stabilize the European electricity market.

Referring to last summer, Birnbaum said: “The high electricity prices were also driven by the low availability of French nuclear power.” With Isar 2 in Essenbach, Bavaria, the Eon subsidiary Preussenelektra operated one of the three most recently producing German nuclear power plants.

However, it is not yet clear how quickly EDF can ramp up production. Supply uncertainties could also characterize next winter. France therefore wants – and in order to make progress with the energy transition – to speed things up with renewables, especially with wind power. So far, France has not been able to keep up with the generation of electricity from wind in Germany. The wind turbines are also extremely unpopular with parts of the French population. The right-wing national competitor of Emmanuel Macron in the 2022 presidential election, Marine Le Pen, even promised to dismantle all the wind turbines in the country.

The middle government is now increasingly focusing on offshore plants. According to the power grid operator RTE, France’s long and windy coasts on the Atlantic and Mediterranean are well suited for the installation of floating parks. By 2050, France wants to create around 50 offshore wind farms with a capacity of 40 gigawatts. Forecasts assume that they could then supply 12 to 31 percent of France’s electricity. Work on the first floating pilot park has already begun near Perpignan in southern France.