Political risks prompt early closure of Swiss plant

30 October 2013

Switzerland's Mühleberg nuclear power plant will be permanently shut down in 2019 instead of the earlier planned 2022 because of "uncertainty surrounding political and regulatory trends," operator BKW FMB Energy has announced.

Muehleberg (BKW) 460.jpg
Mühleberg (Image: BKW)

Although referring to Mühleberg as "an important pillar" in its electricity generating facilities, BKW said that it could only justify making investments in the plant's continued operation for the next six years, instead of until its earlier proposed shutdown in 2022. The  single 372 MWe boiling water reactor began operating in 1972 and has an unlimited-duration operating licence.

Investing in Mühleberg's longer term operation would have "entailed high costs," the company said, "the amortisation of which would have been too uncertain given the prevailing economic, regulatory and political conditions." BKW added that "further (as yet indefinable and unquantifiable) technical, economic and political uncertainties" in the medium term could increase the economic risks of long-term operation.

However, BKW said that it will invest some CHF 200 million ($223 million) in various projects to 2019. Around CHF 15 million ($17 million) of this will be for "extraordinary upgrade measures," including measures to improve the cooling water supply and the cooling systems of the used fuel storage pools. The company said that, by implementing these measures, it will exceed the safety margin stipulated by the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI).

BKW chairman Urs Gasche said that the main factors behind the decision to close Mühleberg in 2019 were "the current market conditions as well as the uncertainty surrounding political and regulatory trends." He called the 2019 shutdown "the best and most robust option" for the company. BKW had based its business plan up to 2030 on the 2022 closure of Mühleberg.

Switzerland will face a deficit of 3 TWh of electricity by 2019 which cannot immediately be offset by BKW's Swiss plants, despite its planned investment in renewable energy, noted BKW CEO Suzanne Thoma. The country will therefore "become more dependent on imports from abroad, and electricity from foreign nuclear power facilities and fossil-fuelled plants will play an important role."

In 2009, the Swiss environment ministry issued an unlimited-duration operating licence to the Mühleberg plant. This decision was overturned in March 2012 by the country's Federal Administrative Court (FAC), which said the plant could only operate until June 2013. BKW subsequently lodged an appeal with the Federal Court in Lausanne against the FAC's ruling, winning its case this March and securing its unlimited-duration operating licence.

While the Swiss canton of Bern is the majority shareholder in BKW, the remaining shares are held by Groupe E (10%), EOn Energie (7%) and BKW FMB Energy Ltd (10%), with the other 20% held by other parties.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News