Residents of the Swiss canton of Bern have expressed their support for the construction of a new nuclear power plant at Mühleberg in a local referendum, but Nidwalden residents registered their opposition to a nuclear waste repository.
Just over 51% (188,193) of the voters in the Bern cantonal referendum voted in support of construction of a new reactor to replace the existing 372 MWe boiling water reactor at the Mühleberg site, which has been in operation since 1971 and is expected to close in 2022. However, the margin in favour was slim, with nearly 49% (179,279) opposing the project. Just over half of those eligible to vote took part in the referendum.
The Axpo Group and BKW FMB Energie filed framework permit applications for new nuclear units at Beznau and Mühleberg in December 2008, and late in 2010 Axpo, BKW and Alpiq formally joined forces to work together on projects to develop new nuclear reactors in Switzerland. The cantonal vote is part of the consultation process for the applications and is not binding, but is being hailed as an indicator of likely public support for the project to replace the old reactor.
BKW welcomed the news of the vote. In a press release, the operator of the current Mühleberg plant said voters had "sent out a signal," and added that the result had "strengthened BKW's resolve to further pursue the project in contact and dialogue with the community of Mühleberg and neighbouring communities as well as other interest groups."
A full referendum on the project could be called at a later date as part of the application review process.
Nidwalden says no
Meanwhile, over three-quarters of the voters in a cantonal referendum in Nidwalden opposed the location of an underground repository for Swiss nuclear waste at Wellenberg. Nearly 80% of the turnout (11,602 voters) opposed the proposals, with 20% (2948 voters) in favour. Plans for a repository for low- and intermediate-level waste at Wellenberg were blocked by a cantonal vote in 1995 and again in 2002. Subsequent changes to Swiss nuclear law mean that cantonal votes can no longer veto the plan but a national referendum would still be required for the project to proceed.
Wellenberg is one of six proposed regions for the siting of a deep geologic repository for low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste. Public consultations including cantonal referenda are a part of a site selection process the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) expects will take until around 2016-2018 to complete. A national referendum on the repository is not likely until 2017 at the earliest, according to SFOE.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News