Public votes for continued Mühleberg operation

19 May 2014

Voters in the Swiss canton of Bern have rejected a proposal for the immediate shut down of the Mühleberg nuclear power plant. The plant will now close as intended in 2019.

Muhleberg - landscape - 460
Mühleberg (Image: BKW)

In a referendum held on 18 May, almost two-thirds of voters in the canton voted against an initiative brought by a group of citizens calling for the immediate closure of the plant. The "Mühleberg from the Network" initiative claimed that the plant was unsafe to continue operating until 2019. The results showed that 137,285 voters backed Mühleberg's immediate shut down, while 236,285 rejected it.

Operator BKW FMB Energy said, "The results of the referendum show that voters in the canton of Bern trust BKW and support the decision in favour of an orderly shutdown for the Mühleberg nuclear power plant in 2019. BKW will continue with the preparations to shut down the plant according to plan."

BKW announced in late 2013 that Mühleberg will be permanently shut down in 2019 instead of the earlier planned 2022 because of "uncertainty surrounding political and regulatory trends." The single 372 MWe boiling water reactor began operating in 1972.

The company said that it will implement various upgrade projects over the plant's remaining years of operation. It plans to invest some CHF200 million ($224 million) in operations and maintenance, of which around CHF15 million ($17 million) is earmarked for "extraordinary retrofit measures," including measures to improve the cooling water supply and the cooling systems of the used fuel storage pools.

Industry body the Swiss Nuclear Forum said, "The clear vote shows that the population does not want a hasty and premature nuclear phase-out for political reasons. The Bernese have sent a clear message to the federal parliament: the operating companies, under the supervision of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), know how best to ensure the safe operation of Swiss nuclear power plants."

Phase out plans

Switzerland's federal government has already decided to phase out the five nuclear reactors which generate 40% of the country's electricity by not replacing them with new nuclear capacity at the end of their anticipated working lives. The decision came in response to the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi and would effectively see all of Switzerland's nuclear power plants shut by 2035. That decision is subject to an ongoing review of technology options, which might allow new plants to be built.

A Green-led initiative to phase out the use of nuclear energy in Switzerland earlier has secured enough support for a national referendum on the issue to be held. The initiative seeks to impose a statutory limit of 45 years on the operating lives of the country's reactors and a ban on new construction, which would result in Swiss nuclear power being phased out slightly earlier than the government plan, in 2029. A date for that vote has yet to be announced.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News