Swiss reject plan to speed up exit from nuclear energy

Swiss voters have rejected an initiative that would have forced the government to shut down that last nuclear power plant by 2029. The Swiss Energy Foundation speaks of a missed opportunity.

The initiative launched by the Green party would have required the government to set a timetable to end Switzerland’s production of nuclear energy. But despite polls indicating a tight race, 54.2 per cent of voters rejected the initiative.

As is often the case in Switzerland’s direct democracy system, a clear divide could be seen among the French and German-speaking parts of the country. Four of the six cantons that voted in favour are in the French-speaking part of the country. Except for the two Basel cantons, all of Switzerland’s German-speaking cantons shut down the proposal, as did the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.

Under the initiative, the lifespan of Switzerland’s nuclear plants would have been limited to 45 years. This would have meant that three of the country’s plants would have had to close next year and the last by 2029 at the latest.

But with the initiative now defeated, there is no clear timetable as to when the last Swiss nuclear power plant will be shut down.

The country’s energy strategy – which the Swiss government adopted in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster – allows nuclear power plants to operate so long as they are deemed safe. At the end of their safe operating life, they will not be replaced.

Federal councillor and energy minister Doris Leuthard was relieved that the initiative was rejected at the polls. In an interview on Sunday evening, she told SRF television that while withdrawing from nuclear energy is the right approach, it should be done gradually and not in a rushed manner. By rejecting the initiative, the Swiss people signalled that they do not want a hasty exit from nuclear energy, said Leuthard.

Despite being defeated at the polls, those who launched the initiative called the close results a “clear sign for a rapid nuclear phase out”, which should now be pursued via the country’s energy strategy.

But the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES) spoke of a “missed opportunity”. Its managing director Jürg Buri said there is now no clear withdrawal plan nor political pressure to strategically expand renewable energy.

At the other end of the political spectrum, the results were celebrated by economiesuisse, a group representing Swiss business interests. It said that the Swiss energy supply has to be reorganised in a flexible manner and with market-based instruments. In its opinion, the no vote gives Switzerland the scope needed to reorient its energy policy.

Yesterday’s vote stands in clear contrast to neighbouring Germany, which plans to shut down its nuclear power plants by the end of 2022.


Image credit: Greg Dunlap, flickr/Creative Commons

Andrea Schaller

Founder and editor Go4Ges

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