Swiss voters reject early shutdown of nuclear power

Steam emerging from a cooling tower of Leibstadt, one of five nuclear power plants in Switzerland. If the initiative had been passed, this reactor would have been the last to be shuttered in 2029.
Steam emerging from a cooling tower of Leibstadt, one of five nuclear power plants in Switzerland. If the initiative had been passed, this reactor would have been the last to be shuttered in 2029.PHOTO: REUTERS

ZURICH • Swiss voters have rejected a quick shutdown of the country's five nuclear power plants, as concerns over losing energy independence outweighed safety worries.

Nearly 55 per cent of voters in a referendum on Sunday turned down the initiative promoted by the Green party, with 45 per cent favouring it, in a vote that was part of the Swiss system of direct democracy giving citizens a final say on important issues.

Swiss reactors Muehleberg and Beznau I and II would have been shuttered next year, followed by Goesgen in 2024 and Leibstadt in 2029, had the initiative passed.

The Swiss government and industry fought the plan for early closure, saying it could lead to blackouts, higher costs and the loss of energy independence because the country would become more dependent on coal-fired power from neighbouring Germany.

"We're very happy Swiss voters are giving such an explicit result," said Mr Heinz Karrer, president of the pro-business group Economie- suisse, on state television network SRF. "Switzerland's people don't want a radical solution."

Germany plans to close its remaining nuclear plants by 2022, a response to the 2011 disaster in Japan that prompted the Swiss initiative.

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 nuclear reactors, but without a deadline.

However, the Swiss People's Party, the largest in Parliament, is still aiming to challenge that policy with a separate referendum on the grounds that it is too expensive.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Swiss voters reject early shutdown of nuclear power'. Print Edition | Subscribe