Swiss energy policy ready for parliamentary debate

29 October 2014

The first package of measures of Switzerland's proposed new energy policy - including the phase out of the use of nuclear energy - is ready to be debated by the parliament, a committee of its lower house has announced.

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 move would effectively see all of Switzerland's nuclear power plants shut by 2035. The decision came in response to the March 2011 accident at Fukushima Daiichi, despite a referendum the previous month that supported replacement reactors.

The environment, spatial planning and energy committee of the National Council - the lower house of the Swiss parliament (Federal Assembly) - announced on 28 October that after more than a year of "intensive preliminary discussion" it had completed its review of the draft decree. The cross-party committee voted 14-9 in favour of the draft decree. The first part of the new energy policy - entitled Energy Strategy 2050 - is now set to be debated by the lower house during the next parliamentary session.

The committee also voted on the recommendations of a popular initiative submitted by the Green Party for a partial revision of the federal constitution on the phase-out of nuclear energy, which would see the country's last reactor shut in 2029. However, the committee rejected this initiative, as well as a proposal to link it to the draft decree. Under this provision, the new energy policy can only enter into force if the popular initiative is withdrawn or rejected.

The draft decree proposes that nuclear power plant operators can submit a plan, or 'concept', for extending the long-term operation of their reactors for a further ten years. The committee decided to keep this proposal, despite some members calling for the operating lives of reactors to be limited to 50 or 60 years. A minority of committee members wanted the option for reactor life extensions to be removed altogether.

Given operating lifespans of 50 years, the first Swiss reactor to shut could be Beznau 1 in 2019, followed by Beznau 2 in 2021. Taken together these smaller units would remove only 730 MWe from supply. Another 372 would be lost with the shutdown of Mühleberg around 2022. The largest units are Gösgen with 985 MWe and Leibstadt with 1165 MWe, which would likely close in 2029 and 2034, respectively.

Switzerland's decision not to build any new nuclear generating capacity will cost the country some CHF 30 billion ($33 billion) up to 2050, according to the country's Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News