Safety OK for new Swiss nuclear

16 November 2010

The permit application process for three new nuclear plants in Switzerland has taken a step forward with an in-principle decision from the federal safety regulator that the Niederamt, Beznau and Müheleberg sites are suitable for the purpose. 

Beznau composite (Photo: Axpo)
Future view of Beznau (Image: Axpo)


The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) has reviewed applications for the three plants, which would all be replacements for existing nuclear power units, and drawn up definitive appraisals for the Swiss Federal Office of Energy. According to ENSI, all three applications were technically complete and correct and international legal requirements for site selection had been met. The regulator ruled that none of the sites showed any characteristics likely to be a problem for the construction of a new nuclear plant, but has requested some clarifications from the applicants, especially concerning seismic risks, before construction permit applications are submitted.

The applications for Beznau and Mühleberg were drawn up on behalf of Axpo/BKW by planning joint venture Resun AG. Axpo hailed the ENSI announcement as an "important milestone" in the framework permit application process. Alpiq, parent group of Kernkraftwerk Niederamt, also welcomed the regulator's decision, saying it attested to the "very high quality" of the Niederamt project. (Niederamt would be the replacement for the nearby Gösgen plant.) Both groups said they were working to address the requirements and recommendations brought up in ENSI's extensive reports on their applications.

All three applications are for 1100 to 1600 MWe advanced reactors of as-yet unspecified design using hybrid cooling systems to minimize water consumption. They would be replacing existing smaller units - two 365 MWe pressurised water reactors (PWR) at Beznau, a 985 MWe PWR at Gösgen, and a 372 MWe boiling water reactor (BWR) at Mühleberg - which are all currently scheduled for closure in the period 2019-2029. The existing plants at Beznau and Gösgen also provide district heating as well as electricity. Replacement of the nuclear units is part of an energy policy announced by the country's government in 2007 to avoid predicted energy shortfalls by 2020 as reactors close and an electricity import agreement with France is phased out. Switzerland's other operating nuclear power plant, the 1165 MWe Leibstadt BWR, is not scheduled for closure until 2034.

The three relevant townships will be given the opportunity to comment on the applications in early 2011, and ENSI's findings on the applications, already published on its web site, will be open to review as part of a public enquiry in mid-2011. A federal decision on granting general authorisations for the plants is probable by mid-2012, according to ENSI. This decision would then be subject to approval at the national level and could then be subject to a referendum, likely to take place in 2013.

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News