Switzerland has voted to start phasing out nuclear power, which provides around one-third of its electricity, as part of a revised energy strategy. Some 58.2% of voters in a binding 21 May referendum backed the ban on new NPPs, according to provisional results published on the federal government’s website.
Swiss voters also supported government plans to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy, to ban new nuclear plants and to help bail out struggling utilities. Debate on the “Energy Strategy 2050” law had focused on what customers and taxpayers will pay for the measures and whether a four-fold rise in solar and wind power by 2035, as envisaged in the law, can deliver reliable supplies. Under the law, CHF480m ($493m) will be raised annually from electricity users to fund investment in wind, solar and hydro power. An additional CHF450m will be set aside from an existing fossil fuels tax to help cut energy use in buildings by 43% by 2035 compared with 2000 levels. The law will ban building new nuclear plants. Switzerland has five plants, with the first slated to close in 2019. Voters have not set a firm deadline for the rest, allowing them to run as long as they meet safety standards.
The strategy includes plans to decommission Switzerland’s five reactors as they reach the end of their operational lifespans. Since all of Switzerland’s nuclear plants have open-ended operating licences, there is no clear cut-off date determining when they should be shut down. In November 2016, Swiss voters narrowly rejected a much faster exit from nuclear power under a timetable proposed by the Green Party to phase out nuclear generation entirely by 2029, with the first plants shutting next year. Switzerland’s nuclear power stations include two units at Beznau NPP and one each at the Mühleberg, Gösgen and Leibstadt NPPs. The Swiss government argued that increased safety standards meant it was no longer cost-effective to build nuclear plants, noting that the new GBP18bn ($23.4bn) Hinkley Point C nuclear station in the UK would use public subsidies.
Opponents to the nuclear phaseout warned, however, that the government’s plans to push renewables and energy savings were costly, posed risks to energy security and would not be environmentally friendly.