France, Germany and Sweden towards environmental protection: Nuclear Policies in Comparison


This comparative study is aimed at addressing the environmental implications of nuclear policies pursued by three developed European nations, France, Germany, and Sweden. Nuclear Politics played an important role in shaping politics in various European capitals. All these three countries pursued different policies in the nuclear sphere which influenced their decision – making process in the environmental realm. Nuclear power may have passed the critical “anti-nuclear phase ”, which was at the peak in the mid and late twentieth century, but few countries in Europe enabled by their industrial innovation move past the grid blackout phase and developed sustainable ways of producing electric power, which is now challenging the nuclear power as the ultimate source of power in the 21st century and the time to come. Two of the case studies, France and Germany represent a quite distinct take on environmental and nuclear politics from Sweden, as France and Germany wields greater influence on the global scale due to their industrial and economic might, the nuclear and environmental politics in these two countries have global undertones, while Sweden is less influential on the global scale, and thus have a more nationalistic or somewhat regional undertone of its policies in this sphere. This study in its last leg compares the policies pursued and implemented by all these three countries, with the national, regional, and global implications of their environmental and nuclear policies.

Climate & Nuclear Policies in France :

Green political parties are gaining a solid foothold around Europe, France is also not immune to this new surge in popularity of this relatively new politics, centered around environment, climate and consumption habits whether in the food realm or the energy sector. This new politics is also referred to as the politics of mass society, where the driving force behind people ’s political objectives extend beyond the ideological or material gains but extend onto a collective vision of the community, society, country (Reissman, 1959). This politics has the inherent ability to spread across borders as we are witnessing across Europe, more and more gains are being stamped by the green parties over the years and especially in 2019 European elections (France’s greens make strong gains in European Parliament vote, 2019). The development of political ecology in France spanned over five decades, starting from 1973 (Emilie Van Haute, 2019). Les Verts (The Greens) took time to transform themselves into a political party, and it was until 1984 when its initial party structure appeared (Burchell, 2002). Despite huge anti-nuclear protests in France in the 1970s, it achieved little to transform Greens into an overnight success. The development of Green politics in France was not smooth, like any other form of politics, where discord and dispute are bound to happen in any democratic discourse, or guided by personal intent to mold and direct the narrative of a political party for the greater electoral gain. In 1990 a former French Presidential candidate and ex environmental minister Brice Lalonde announced the creation of a rival green party to the Les Vertis, which resulted in the direct split of the Green vote (Burchell, 2002). Les Vertis failed to gain national representation because of the split. The Greens delayed political gains today at the cost of past mistakes of discord. However, in today’s France the climate and environmental politics hold immense significance, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference was held in Paris, after over 50 countries signed up to the agreement, the summit is now officially a global treaty on the environment. But even France’s leading role in garnering international support for concluding a historic treaty on climate change, its internal politics tells another story, susceptible to France over-reliance on nuclear energy, as it meets 78 percent of its energy needs from the breakdown of the nucleus and many experts including Greenpeace believe that the nuclear question was utterly ignored at the big climate summit (Nuclear energy struggles to find its voice at COP21 Conference, 2020). The International atomic energy agency IAEA believes that nuclear energy stood the test of time and proved its efficiency in achieving a low carbon future for the globe. France being a top tier nuclear technology provider cannot afford to entirely roll back its nuclear program. If it did announce to roll back its nuclear energy program and announce an entire phase-out, it will still put it in a precarious situation, that is why it will export something that it deems unfeasible on its territory. Apart from this scenario, the question of France’s political standing as a Great power relies on its relation with rising powers of the East, like India which allowed greater market access to France and is a leading partner of France in nuclear technology transfer for civilian purposes. France announced to phase out dozens of its nuclear power plants in the coming decades but it is not entirely getting rid of its nuclear energy program. Rise of other nuclear technology providers also forced France to maintain with the new competitors like Russia and China, which are rolling out new reactors with state of the art nuclear safety and security tools and wanting to dominate nuclear commerce. Under the Macron Presidency France is keen to maintain and promote its nuclear power industry. AREVA is responsible for managing France’s global nuclear trade while EDF is tasked with running a fleet of its national nuclear power plants (Minin & Vlcek, 2018). After the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Germany and Japan announced their plans to power down their NPPs. France’s AVERA is the main provider of nuclear technology to both Germany and France, and their decision to phase out the nuclear program has significant consequences for the French nuclear trade (Minin & Vlcek, 2018). Nuclear power is France’s third-largest industry and is an employer to 220,000 direct and indirect jobs (SFEN: Nuclear essential to economic recovery: Nuclear Policies – World Nuclear News, 2020). France ’s environmental protection policy thus far is complying with its current strategy of protecting its prized nuclear industry while introducing measures to curb carbon pollution.

Climate and Nuclear Policies in Germany.

In the 2019 European Elections Germans noticed a spark rise of the Greens (Pearson and Rudig, 2020). The policies pursued by successive German governments kept the anti-nuclear bar higher and unlike Sweden and France, Germany kept its promise of phasing out nuclear energy entirely from its territory. Unlike France, German anti-nuclear protest is mainly because of the storage site for nuclear waste, the transportation of nuclear waste, and the potential dangers posed by the nuclear material to highly compact German territory varying contaminating the upper Rhine, further lighting those concerns. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a longest-serving German statesman, was initially against the German Green coalition led by the then German Chancellor to phase out nuclear power, but the events at Fukushima influenced his thoughts on nuclear energy. The movement, called X-tausendmal quer, means ‘Obstruction Galore’, was an extremely well-crafted movement to mobilize people against nuclear power (Fischer and Boehnke, 2004). The plan was to gather a peaceful mass sit-in and the one-point agenda was to shut down all the nuclear power plants in Germany. X-tausendmal quer happened in 1996 when Germany was finally bracing for the Green surge (Fischer and Boehnke, 2004). German green politics is partly made strong by continuous nuclear protests that occurred across the 70s. German Green party Die Grünen emerged in 1980 but made no significant electoral gains until the early 1990s. However, the Greens in Germany were not static, it proliferated well into the system, improving performance in every local and central election (Burchell, 2002). In 1998 the Greens finally emerged successful by forming a coalition government (Burchell, 2002). The Germans Greens Party is considered the most successful innovation in the German party system (Emilie Van Haute, 2019). To this day the footprints of the Green revolution are more visible than ever. Germany is considered a Renewable energy superpower. Germany crafted ambitious policies to phase out nuclear power and replace it completely with renewable energy sources. Energiewende in 2010 and Paris agreement in 2015 for controlling the CO2 emissions (Hansen, Mathiesen and Skov, 2019). These ambitious policies are now being implemented and now the German renewable potential can be seen in its private sector, where a third of the capacity to produce electric power is owned privately by German citizens (Nature 2019). The opponents of the Energiewende claim that it’s an extremely expensive way of transforming the energy sector away from the very cheap and reliable nuclear energy. Germany is labeled as Energy democracy because of its current energy transformation and the power tariffs comparison with traditional formulas as implemented all over the world, but Germany is taking leave from this traditional neoliberal order in its implementation of the Energiewende (Fridell, 2017).

Climate and Nuclear Policies in Sweden :

Soviet Union ’s buried nuclear-powered submarine beneath the Swedish and Norwegian waters is a stark reminder of the dangerous cold war legacy. Sweden, like Germany and France, is operating nuclear reactors and meets 40 percent of its energy demands from nuclear power (Nuclear Energy in Sweden – World Nuclear Association, 2020). Germany and Sweden are both considered as pioneers in nuclear technology. Sweden operates seven nuclear power plants and rolled out ambitious plans to phase out 4 of its NPPs in the coming decade. Sweden’s government back in 1980 decided to phase out nuclear power but this decision was repealed in 2010 (Nuclear Energy in Sweden – World Nuclear Association, 2020). Many of Sweden’s NPPs are old and operating on extended life limits, going through various updates. In 2009, the Swedish government rolled out new comprehensive energy and climate policy, which was enacted into law in the same year by the Swedish parliament (Country Nuclear Profiles, 2020). Swedish climate policy has footprints of the European climate policy, but the Swedish policy is more ambitious (Country Nuclear Profiles, 2020).

Targets for 2020 include;

  1. 1. 40 percent reduction in climate gas emissions, EU target is 17 percent
  2. 2. 50 percent renewable energy, EU target is 40 percent
  3. 3. 10% higher energy efficiency and 10% and 10% renewable energy in the transport sector. ( a common target as of EU)

Nuclear energy will remain a crucial part of the Sweden energy mix, Sweden is trying to install new NPPs while phasing out those that reached its expected life limit. The Green party in Sweden was formed in 1981, in the following year it competed in the elections in 1992 and had undergone a large organizational reform (Emilie Van Haute, 2019). Swedish politics before the Greens were traditionally left-right, but after its emergence, it became the force to set climate and environmental guidelines for Sweden, by introducing sweeping changes in the way climate was treated in the Swedish politics. Nuclear accidents throughout history played an important role in the nuclear politics of European nations. The meltdown at Three Mile Island started the early chatter on the nuclear phase-out in Sweden (Lonnroth, 2002). The year 2010 has an ominous history in Sweden, as it was declared as a year of nuclear phase-out for Sweden. Sweden, like Germany, has a tough policy related to nuclear infrastructure development, back in the 70s it was almost impossible to build new NPPs or advocate for building more NPPs in Sweden. Sweden’s climate policy is a story of commitments as it complied with all the measures advocated by the Kyoto protocol and also by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Comparative Analysis of Germany, France, and Sweden’s Nuclear and Climate Policies.

All the three developed countries France Germany and Sweden have distinct approaches to climate and nuclear realms, but due to the European Union all three countries are extremely successful in implementing the climate accords and achieving their objectives, The ambitious policies helped all the three countries in nurturing institutional robustness to stand out in the polity of nations when it comes to sustainable energy production coupled with climate goals. Sweden is the most modest and smooth in implementing the climate goals, yearly. Germany, on the other hand, has lots of highs and lows when it comes to its nuclear and climate policy, through Energiewende it is achieving these goals more comprehensively, the nuclear phase-out now in clear sight helped Germany to avoid any confusion in its plans as was the case of Sweden which rolled back its decision to phase out nuclear power entirely on its territory. The political undertones in all these countries differ because of the three different systems of governance, though all the three countries are finest democracies due to change in institutional capacities, national power and interests within European Union Framework and outside its framework, are affecting its outcomes in the climate and nuclear sphere. France being a giant in nuclear technology cannot afford to roll back its nuclear energy program and this thinking is well enshrined in the psyche of its national leadership and the spirit of its democratic institutions, having an absolute consensus among all stakeholders at the national level to discourage a walk away from the nuclear power. In Germany, on the other hand, the notion of nuclear sovereignty holds no significance and any political party with a clear or negotiated mandate can direct a national policy on nuclear power, while on the climate policy, German institutions, leadership, and stakeholders have the same consensus, as French has on nuclear policy, the German transition into a renewable energy nation in itself is the biggest example to adapt to new green world order, and it surely will attract more nations in itself from both developed and developing nations. Sweden climate policy objectives are ambitious yet achievable and its leadership, institutions and are well-equipped to achieve those objectives keeping a fine balance between its nuclear power production, safety and security and removing carbon footprints through concerted efforts, the new green mandate and its inclusion in the central government are devising radical policies to achieve those ambitious goals promptly. Climate-related technologies development, innovation, and employing other natural barriers to eliminate carbon footprints are also playing a key role in all these countries. Sweden being the country of the North is more concerned about the thawing of the frozen ocean, and is thus more agile in protecting the biodiversity of the region, rolling out conservative plans for its adjacent regions. France in recent years saw an unprecedented surge in forestation, a large swath of the areas in France going through forestation.

Conclusion :

The study shows that climate and nuclear policies are not in a disconnect as is the case of other nuclear power pricing countries. In Asia and the United States, nuclear power is about the energy mix of the country and is often considered as a long term solution to the energy needs, while ignoring the climate side. The United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, and is now on its own to deal with the climate issue and is currently under deniable tendencies to face up to the climate challenge of its own, Asia is also grappling with its version of climate and nuclear politics which are incomplete disconnect, But Germany France and Sweden show that through years of debate, dialogue and innovation all these countries have been successful in weaving a robust institutional framework within and outside Europe Union.

Waqas Jan
Waqas Jan
The writer is a graduate of National Defence University Pakistan. His research interests include Arms Control Verification, Compliance and Enforcement, Humanitarian Arms Control, Export Controls and Disarmament Machinery.