Swiss reject rapid nuclear phase out

27 November 2016

UPDATED -This article was updated on 28 November to indicate the final result of the referendum and to include comments from the Swiss Nuclear Forum and the World Nuclear Association.

The proposal to force older nuclear power plants to close in Switzerland has been rejected in a referendum. The five reactors that provide over one-third of electricity can continue to operate according to their economic lives.  

Nuclear power plants in Switzerland (Nov 2016) (WNA)  

Nuclear power is Switzerland's second largest source of electricity, providing about 35% of electricity in 2015 and complementing 52% hydro to give the country one of the cleanest and most secure electricity systems in the world.

In 2010 there were active plans to replace the five current reactors based on a supportive referendum and confirmation by regulators that the sites were suitable. This program was scrapped by a National Council vote in June 2011, just four months after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, and Switzerland was put on a path to lose nuclear power when existing reactors retired in the 2030s and 2040s.

Today Switzerland went to the polls on a further proposal that would have accelerated the retirements by forcing reactors to close at the age of 45. Because they are already over this age, Beznau 1 and 2 as well as Muehleberg would have closed in 2017. Gösgen would have followed in 2024, and Leibstadt in 2029. 

Muhleberg - 460 (BKW)
Muehleberg (Image: BKW)

A majority - 54.2% - of people voted 'No' to the rapid phase out, recording a clear victory by winning both the popular vote and by taking majorities in the most cantons. The participation rate in the referendum was some 45% of voters.

The Swiss Nuclear Forum said, "Swiss voters have expressed their confidence in the nuclear power plant operators and in the safety authorities by a clear majority. The clear rejection of the nuclear phase-out initiative shows that the Swiss attach great importance to a reliable and environmentally friendly power supply with domestic plants."

Daniel Aegerter, co-founder of pro-nuclear NGO Energy for Humanity (EfH) said: "Swiss voters have sent a strong message to the world by rejecting the Greens' disorderly nuclear exit initiative. Our efforts now must be on expanding clean electricity generation, not shutting it down."

Now Swiss nuclear plants can operate according to their owners' commercial plans, subject to approval from safety regulators. They are now likely to continue until the age of 60, closing in the 2030s-2040s. They are expected to generate some 320 TWh of electricity in the longer operating period, which would avoid "at least 50 million tons of CO2" compared to a typical replacement mix of natural gas and imports from France and Germany, said EfH.

Wolfgang Denk, European director of EfH said: "Germany has been trying for years to succeed with their energy transition and they are facing huge difficulties. By keeping their existing plants online, Switzerland will be in a much better position to face the upcoming challenges in climate change and the energy sector in general."

World Nuclear Association director general Agneta Rising said, "The Swiss people have chosen to use their existing nuclear energy assets more wisely and to preserve their wonderful clean energy system. Relying on a balanced mix of hydro power and nuclear, their energy mix is one of the cleanest in the world and it provides a successful model for other countries that are seeking to decarbonise."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News