World and Nation

French coalition split over how much to cut nuclear power

PARIS — After just four months in power, the governing coalition of the Socialist Party and the Greens is already marred by deep ideological divisions over energy policy, in particular how quickly and sharply France should move to reduce its heavy dependence on nuclear energy.

The risks are especially acute for the Greens, who are savoring their first taste of governmental power here in a decade. Francois Hollande, the Socialist victor in May’s presidential elections, appointed two prominent Greens to ministerial posts within his 38-member Cabinet, including the party’s former leader, Cecile Duflot.

But a series of compromises and back-room deals on nuclear power has placed the Green Party’s leadership at odds with its activist, environmentalist base, and rising tensions are prompting some to wonder whether the alliance can survive Hollande’s five-year mandate.

Those frictions are likely to be evident at a two-day government conference on energy and the environment, which begins Friday.

Jean-Pierre Le Goff, a sociologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, said he was not sure the alliance would last.

“It is very much an open question,” he said. “The nuclear debate is an old one, but it is emblematic of how, within the left, and even within the center of the Socialist party, there are some very strong contradictions.”

Desperate to secure the votes needed to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy, the center-right incumbent, the Socialists agreed last year not to field any candidates in around 60 constituencies. In exchange, the Greens accepted the Socialists’ goal of reducing France’s dependence on nuclear power for energy to 50 percent from 75 percent by 2025 — far short of the Greens’ own goal of zero.

The Greens then made major gains in parliamentary elections in June, securing 17 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly and enough electoral weight to form their own parliamentary group.

“The Socialists are starting to realize that they gave a very generous gift to the Greens,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for Political Research in Paris, who noted that the Green presidential candidate, Eva Joly, was eliminated in the first round of voting, with a humiliating 2.3 percent of the ballot. “The Greens are a small party, but they have been very well paid.”

An accidental release of chemical steam last week at Fessenheim, the country’s oldest nuclear reactor, has once again revived the debate over France’s nuclear future.