New Swiss plants under starter's orders

04 December 2008

Axpo Group and BKW FMB Energy have filed framework permit applications for new nuclear units at Beznau and Mühleberg, a move the companies have described as the "official starting shot" for the replacement of three of Switzerland's ageing nuclear reactors.


Beznau composite (Photo: Axpo)
How the replacement plant at Beznau could look (Image: Axpo)


By building replacements for the existing units, the companies say they will help to ensure reliable future electricity supplies for Switzerland in line with a federal energy policy that expressly includes the construction of new large-scale power plants alongside renewables, energy efficiency and gas-powered plants (hydro is not amenable to expansion in Switzerland). The two existing Beznau units, with a total capacity of 730 MWe and the single 355 MWe unit at Mühleberg are all scheduled to close around 2020. Swiss electricity purchase agreements with France are also due to gradually expire from 2018 onwards, contributing to the need for new domestic generation capacity.


Identical plants


The framework permit applications and their accompanying documentation specify that the new power plants will be up to 1600 MWe in capacity but do not specify a reactor type or vendor, as these details would be part of a later construction permit application. However, according to Axpo and BKW, "it is clear that two identical latest-generation power plants should be built, and that only one manufacturer of a globally recognised technology should be considered." Furthermore, the companies say, the plants will use modern hybrid cooling towers that doe not affect river water temperatures and are less visually obtrusive than conventional towers.


The applications will now be subject to a review process involving consultations with local and neighbouring cantons plus neighbouring countries, followed by a Federal Council and parliamentary vote. The decision is also subject to an optional referendum, which could take place in 2012 or 2013. An additional construction and operation permit procedure would then be needed for each plant. Axpo and BKW say the new plants are likely to go into operation "after 2020".


Two out of three?


Switzlerand's five operating nuclear reactors supply just over 40% of the country's electricity. A framework permit application for a new nuclear power plant at Niederamt, adjacent to but independent of the existing Gösgen nuclear power plant, was filed by Atel in June, meaning that applications for three new plants are now up for review. According to Axpo and BKW, two new plants would be sufficient to offset the expected reductions in Swiss capacity by 2020. "Axpo and BKW take the view that the replacement nuclear power plants should be built at the tried-and-tested locations of the current facilities," the companies say, but are continuing talks with Atel "in the firm belief that a joint solution can be reached."