Swiss referendum rejects speedy nuclear energy exit
Image credit: Ch-info.ch
The Swiss public have rejected a proposal for an accelerated phase-out of nuclear energy because of concerns over the loss of energy independence.
Almost 55 per cent of the voters in the referendum on Sunday supported the continuation of nuclear power generation in the nation’s five power plants, with 45 per cent backing the proposal to start shutting down the assets next year.
The initiative to discontinue nuclear energy would have seen reactors Muehleberg and Beznau I and II closed next year, with Goesgen to follow in 2024 and Leibstadt in 2029.
The Swiss government opposed the initiative, fearing blackouts and increased electricity cost. The plan would also require Switzerland to import more energy from neighbouring Germany, produced in the country’s coal-fired power plants.
“We're very happy Swiss voters are giving such an explicit result,” said Heinz Karrer, a former head of the utility Axpo and current president of the pro-business group Economiesuisse, in an interview on state-run television SRF. “Switzerland's people don't want a radical solution.”
Switzerland has a 2050 energy strategy in which it would gradually replace the nuclear power that now supplies about a third of the country's electricity with renewables, including wind and solar. The strategy calls for eventual closure of the Swiss reactors, but without a deadline.
The country’s largest party in parliament, the Swiss People’s Party, however, aims to challenge the plan, describing it as too costly.
Swiss energy minister Doris Leuthard, at a press conference in Berne following the vote, said she would counter any SVP-led referendum with arguments similar to those that she used when fighting Sunday's initiative.
“I'm relieved by this outcome, because it allows us the necessary time to transform our energy system,” Leuthard told reporters. “The people are in agreement - this is something that won't happen overnight.”
Swiss utility BKW AG already plans to shutter Muehleberg in 2019, citing the high costs of maintenance and operations.
Swiss Green Party advocates for a quicker atomic power exit have cited worries about an ageing atomic capability, with Beznau I the oldest operating nuclear power station in the world, having been started in 1969.
That reactor and Leibstadt, the largest Swiss atomic power station, have been offline for months following maintenance issues, including the discovery of discolouration in eight cladding tubes used to encase Leibstadt's fuel rods.
Germany plans to shut down its remaining nuclear plants by 2022, a response to the 2011 disaster in Japan that also prompted the Swiss initiative.