Not Neutral on Nukes: Switzerland to Phase Out Nuclear Power

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.


Following the downward trend on nuclear power in Europe, Switzerland has announced plans to allow its five reactors to reach the ends of their 50-year lifespans; no new nuclear facilities would then be built to replace them. The Swiss Federal Council cited the Fukushima disaster as the push to phase out nuclear power, writing in a press release that "the people of Switzerland would like to see a reduction in the residual risk associated with the use of nuclear energy."

Switzerland, a country of 7.8 million people -- fewer than live in New York City -- currently gets 39 percent of its electricity from those five reactors. Amazingly, another 56 percent comes from hydropower, with only five percent coming from more conventional sources.

The Federal Council's decision -- which will now go to the country's Parliament for debate -- apparently will cost the country up to 0.7 percent of its GDP. A renewed focus on efficiency, expanded hydropower, and a reduction in overall energy consumption are among the ways Switzerland hopes to replace the lost power generation.

The first of the five reactors -- one of two at Beznau, 30 miles northwest of Zurich -- is due to be decommissioned in 2019. The others would go offline by 2034.

This appears to be much more of a long-term policy decision than a fear that a Fukushima-type disaster could befall the country. As the press release notes: "The Federal Council sees no reason to seek early decommissioning. Tests conducted by the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate have shown that the safe operation of Switzerland's nuclear power plants is currently assured." Switzerland follows others in Europe -- especially Germany -- in attempts to phase out nuclear power.

Image of Gosgen plant in Switzerland via Luigi Rosa

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