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Swiss vote to retain nuclear power plants

The Swiss public has voted not to shut down its nuclear power plants in a referendum held on Sunday.

55 per cent of citizens were more concerned about the country’s energy independence than problems associated with its ageing nuclear fleet.
Switzerland referendum ballot boxà‚  Muehleberg and Beznau I and II reactors would have been shuttered next year, followed by Goesgen in 2024 and Leibstadt in 2029, had the initiative passed.

à‚ Government and industry leaders had come out against rapid closure, asserting that blackouts, higher costs and the loss of energy independence were likely had it come to pass.

à‚ Switzerland has a 2050 energy strategy in which it would gradually replace 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.

Reuters reports that the plan is under threat, with the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the largest in parliament, aiming to challenge it with a separate referendum on the grounds it is too expensive.

Although Switzerland’s government already has a plan to decommission the country’s five nuclear plants “at the end of their natural lives”, opponents of nuclear power claim the strategy is too vague, and may allow the plants to keep operating indefinitely.

The proposal that came before voters, brought by the Green party, called for nuclear plants to be closed after a maximum 45 years in operation, and for a ban on construction of any new plants.

This would mean that three of the five plants would have to shut next year, the fourth in 2024 and the last in 2029.

60 per cent of Switzerland’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power, with nuclear accounting for 38 per cent. Hans Ulrich Bigler, member of parliament for the centre-right Radical Party, and director of the Swiss Association of Small and Medium Businesses, told the BBC prior to the vote that without a clear solution on how to fill that gap, a rapid exit from nuclear power would be the real catastrophe.

“Energy prices would rise,” he claimed, “and we would have to import energy from France or Germany.”

Dr Jonathan Cobb of the World Nuclear Association welcomed the news telling Power Engineering International, “The vote is a clear signal from the Swiss people that they want to get the maximum benefit from their nuclear power plants. Switzerland’s mix of predominantly hydro and nuclear energy gives the Swiss one of the lowest carbon generation mixes in the world.”

Agneta Rising, Director General of the WNA noted, “The Swiss people have chosen to use their existing nuclear energy assets more wisely and to preserve their wonderful clean electricity system. Relying on a balanced mix of hydro power and nuclear, their energy mix provides a successful model for other countries that are seeking to decarbonise.”

Rising continued, “The Swiss nuclear vote is as clear an example of energy democracy as one could ask for. It sends a message to the world that they do now want to follow their German neighbour’s floundering energiewende example.”

The referendum outcome should result in current Swiss nuclear plants generating for about 60 years, with the first unit closing sometime in the 2030s.