Nuclear power has often been linked to President Sarkozy's travels. There was a point in his presidency where he seemed to have a reactor to sell at every stop. Then came Fukushima. Sarkozy is now headed for Japan to show "solidarity" with the suffering Japanese. More ominously, experts from Areva and the CEA will also be going to Japan, traveling separately, unlike in the past, when Areva execs often traveled with the president, contracts in hand.
Fukushima puts France in a bind. 80% of its electricity comes from nuclear power. New power plants are scheduled for construction. The partially state-owned firm Areva is a major player in the nuclear power field and is hoping to earn a positive return on its massive investment in a new generation of reactor, the EPR, which has been touted as a "safer" alternative to earlier reactors. But public opposition to nuclear power is strong and growing rapidly, as Sunday's election results in Baden-Württemberg suggest. So Sarkozy has a very tricky role to play.
France is strangely schizoid on the subject of radiation. The country has seen a fairly large movement in opposition to cell-phone towers, accused of being sources of dangerous radiation, yet it has lived for generations with relatively muted opposition to nuclear power. Fukushima, which has revived memories of Chernobyl, may change that.