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Ferdinand E. Banks

Ferdinand E. Banks

Ferdinand E. Banks, Uppsala University (Sweden), performed his undergraduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology (electrical engineering) and Roosevelt University (Chicago), graduating with honors in…

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Will France Also Play the Nuclear Fool?

Many years ago, although it seems like centuries, I was sitting in a small bar-disco in a town near Stuttgart Germany, talking to an Ivy League type from the same brigade in the U.S. Army as myself, as well as a friend of his who was the son of a former German general, but whose Christian name was definitely American/English.

I of course asked him how so many Germans could have jumped for joy when Adolph Hitler declared war on the United States (on December 11, 1941). Didn’t they understand what that was going to mean? Didn’t the German generals understand?

What I now call the ‘TV audience’ apparently didn’t (for the most part) have the slightest idea of the consequences of that folly. The generals did of course, or at least most of them, but as my friend’s friend said, what could they do – the rank and file, the foot soldiers, overwhelmingly believed in ‘Adi’.

This didn’t sound right to me until I heard the same thing from a woman whose work is always cited in my books, Hildegard Harlinger, a researcher at the IFO Institute für Wirtschaftsforschung (Munich). Then it made all the sense in the world, because I was going to teach game theory, and was familiar with the conversation between John von Neumann and Jacob Bronowski during a taxi ride in Wartime London. The man who was called ‘the best brain of the 20th century’ made it clear that game theory is basically not about those beautiful equations we write on black and white boards, but ‘bluffing, little tactics of deception, etc’, which means departing from the rationality we hear so much about in abstract economic theory.

We don’t see much of that kind of thinking in the standard textbooks of game theory, but there is plenty of it on the nuclear scene. In addition to the nuclear foolishness that Chancellor Angela Merkel claims to subscribe to, an important contender for the Socialist Party’s leadership in the 2012 presidential election in France has said that France should only get 50 percent of its power from nuclear by 2025. The rest of this fantasy is well described by Tara Patel (2011), to include a pronouncement by the present French Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, who reaffirms that “France’s goal is first of all to ensure its energy independence”.

France’s goal is more than that. It is to profit from the insane German decision to reduce nuclear capacity in the near future by 25%, and to liquidate their nuclear sector  by 2022. As a one time student of physics, Angela Merkel almost certainly has an inkling of the bêtise of this option, but votes are votes, and if she prefers the Reichstag to watching (on her wide-screen TV) her political rivals staring across the table at Messrs Sarkozy and Berlusconi,  she evidently feels that she has no choice but to accept what the great American songwriter Irvine Berlin called ‘Doing what comes naturally’, which in this case means supporting a program that makes no technical or economic sense.

Returning to France, l can conclude this discussion by repeating what I say about their energy ambitions in my forthcoming energy economics textbook (2011). First and foremost they want to remedy the problems experienced with the bothersome construction (by Areva) of the 1600 Megawatt (Generation 3) reactor in Finland, the largest in the world, and in doing so demonstrate to all interested parties that France can still deliver the nuclear goods. The vehicles for this ambition are the reactors being constructed at Flamanville, and proposed for Penry. Ceteris paribus, carrying out and extending this program will be a fillip for the French economy in these perilous times.

And last but not least, for the many who failed to read the last chapters in their favourite Econ 101 textbooks, a total (or maybe even a partial) German nuclear retreat will be an unhappy event for much of Europe. Accordingly the answer to the question in the title of this note is so obvious that I will leave it for my future students and other interested persons to answer and discuss.

By. Professor Ferdinand E. Banks



Banks, Ferdinand E. (2011). Energy and Economic Theory. London, New York and
      Singapore: World Scientific.
Harlinger, Hildegard (1975). ‘Neue modelle für die zukunft der menshheit’ . IFO
      Institute Für Wirtschaftforschung (Munich).
Patel, Tara (2011). ‘France won’t build nuclear reactors to make up for shutdowns in
        Germany. Bloomberg (Bloomberg Economic News).

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  • Anonymous on September 02 2011 said:
    I'm glad I took the time to read the whole article above, rather than jump to conclusions of what it was about. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, when I saw the title "Will France also play the nuclear fool" I thought at first this was another of numerous anti-nuclear screeds I have seen since last March - and that includes screeds I have seen on OilPrice.com. But I was wrong. I am glad you have called our attention to energy shortages that may well result when Germany shuts down its last nuclear power plant. Ironically, German nuclear power plants are probably as safe as any others in the world.
  • Anonymous on September 03 2011 said:
    Alex, the German voters will NEVER permit those plants to close - and if closed to stay closed.But as I told a French busybody before my tennis game this morning, there is no reason to say that security is not an issue, but it need not be. Instead of doing what has to be done to give us the secure energy we need and deserve, at a reasonable price, our political masters become involved in stupid wars on the other side of the world. And by the way, the Swedes were hard at work on the nuclear security issue when they were stopped by moronic politicians doing the bidding of the anti-nuclear people.
  • Anonymous on September 04 2011 said:
    Fred, I respect the fact that you as an energy economics prof of many years experience have a certain 'logical bias' in favour of nuclear. However I feel that your comments miss two essential points.Firstly, many people, incl. yours truly have a visceral horror of nuclear. I wold vote away nuclear at any opportunity. Just like that.Secondly Germans are 'looking forward' to receiving 'safe' energy from Russia. Lots of it. Physically safe, politically very risky. But after WW2, most Germans would emotionally prefer to cuddle up to Russia, (devil they know) than to nuclear (devil monster of awesome potential permanent destruction). Its an emotional response not a logical one, from a people famous for their logic and rationality but deeply scarred by mass destruction of the homeland.
  • Anonymous on September 04 2011 said:
    Oh and Fred, one other thing... I like the way you tell your stories... ;-)
  • Anonymous on September 05 2011 said:
    Life is funny, Philip. I got out of bed this morning thinking about exactly what you said. Yes, to me the evidence indicates that nuclear SHOULD NOT be something to fear, but I can understand that there are many persons who don't want nuclear, and I respect that. (Note: SHOULD NOT.)And to some extent they are right. The people at the top and their advisers are incredibly dense, and have lesss and less in common with the rest of us. But the ultimate responsibility is with the voters and perhaps the democratic process. Who would have thought that George W. Bush would have been reelected. Who would have thought that Obama is as incompetent as he obviously is.Are things going to get better? In China and Russia maybe, but right now it looks as if the rest of us will just have to go with the flow, WHICH IS HARDLY SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO.
  • Anonymous on September 06 2011 said:
    Yes Fred, the irony of 'looking forward' for the Germans is that, as they run away from the 'fire' of nuclear, they can only 'look foward'(direction)into the 'frying pan' as Russia's energy 'jaws' are about to ingest as much of Germany as possible into the Russian system (along with eventually, Eastern Europe, France, Italy etc.?). This has precious little to do energy rationality per se and all to do with eventual European economic then political reliance on Russia and with Russia absorbing what it can of Europe through Germany into its own economic system.
  • Anonymous on September 06 2011 said:
    What Stalin would have wanted to do with Europe after WW2, had Dday not succeeded and had the Red Army reached the Atlantic but the US thank God saved half of Europe from that fate. Now its repeating itself with Putin's Russia. Except through energy and business, not troops and tanks. Russia has the primary resources but needs European economy and technology. NOT something to look forward to.

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