Demonstrator calling for the closure of France's Fessenheim nuclear power plant on the French-German border.

Germany's nuclear shift could damage relations with France

Germany's decision to phase out nuclear energy is an 'emotional' reaction to the Japan disaster, argue French politicians.

Chancellor Angela Merkel abruptly changed her stance three weeks ago and unveiled plans to accelerate Germany's exit from nuclear energy.

France, a close ally and the world's most nuclear-dependent country which produces 75 per cent of its power needs from 58 nuclear reactors, was shocked at the move.

Phasing out nuclear power should have been discussed at the European level, argued French Senate finance committee members during a visit to Berlin.

"We understand this decision by our German partners, but it will cause a large number of problems at the European level and could hurt ties with France," said Philippe Marini, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party.

"This was a decision that was taken without consultation - we respect it but it is not without consequences for France."

French state-owned nuclear group Areva could benefit from increased worries about nuclear security because it makes advanced EPR reactors built with higher safety standards.

However Germany's move could spark a broader backlash against nuclear energy, affecting demand for French-made nuclear plants in the longer-term.

France may also be worried that an acceleration in renewable energy investment in Germany could put it at a competitive disadvantage.

Germany was still "in an emotional state" following the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan, said committee president and former finance minister Jean Arthuis.  

Radiation leaks at the plant have forced Japan to elevate the accident to the same alarm level as that of the Chernobyl disaster.

French people are generally in favour of nuclear power, which keeps their electricity bills lower than the European average.

Since the Japan disaster, the "Atomkraft nein danke!" (Nuclear energy no thanks!) signs that proliferated in the 1970s and 80s have reappeared on German streets and hundreds of thousands of Germans have staged protests against nuclear power.

"I think we need to exit from this period of emotion and talk about this at the European level," Arthuis said. "What we need to do is focus on nuclear security."

Arthuis, Marini and other committee members said a unilateral German nuclear exit was at odds with European efforts to move towards greater fiscal convergence.

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