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The Swiss government Wednesday decided to exit nuclear energy by phasing out the country’s existing nuclear plants and seeking alternative energy sources, in a response to security concerns following Japan’s nuclear disaster.
Switzerland is the second country in Europe, after Germany, to drop nuclear energy as an electricity source after protests flared up amid fears that the reactor meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was hit by an earthquake and a tsunami in March, could be repeated elsewhere.
Switzerland generates roughly 40% of its energy from the country’s five nuclear reactors. The rest comes mostly from the more than 1,000 hydropower plants located in the Alps and along Switzerland’s rivers. Energy minister Ms. Leuthard said the government hasn’t yet fixed a date for when the last nuclear-power station will go offline, but experts believe such a step could happen around 2040.
Resistance to the government’s decision may be limited as the recent events in Japan have changed popular opinion, analysts said. However, before the government decision is finalized, the Swiss parliament will discuss the issue. Ms. Leuthard said a popular referendum on the issue also could be held.
Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development gathered in Paris that he was seeking a new energy policy that increased the share of green energy to 20% of total power supply by the early 2020s.
Mr. Kan said Japan aims to bring down the cost of solar-power generation to a third of its current level by 2020 and to a sixth by 2030.
Switzerland’s decision to discontinue the country’s nuclear-power plants comes as a shock to Swiss utilities. Leading power companies Axpo Holding AG and BKW FMB AG had planned to build two new plants, and pledged to invest some $10 billion. The companies had said new plants are needed if Switzerland wants to avoid being dependent on expensive energy imports. The companies also warned that Swiss industry would suffer from high energy costs.
“The government decision will become a problem as far as supply security is concerned,” said Axpo Chief Executive Officer Heinz Karrer. He called for an in-depth analysis of the government decision and said that the Swiss population should vote on the issue.
Industry group Swissmem, which unites more than 1,000 companies in the Swiss machinery and electrical-engineering industry, said the government decision “is questionable as there is no viable alternative to nuclear energy.” Swiss lobby group Economiesuisse said the decision could hit the economy and endanger jobs in the country.
The government’s decision comes amid antinuclear demonstrations countrywide. Some 20,000 protested over the weekend against the use of nuclear energy, citing the Japan disaster but also the lack of a viable storage facility for used fuel rods.
Finland is in the process of finalizing the world’s first permanent storage facility. Plans in Switzerland to create a similar facility have been repeatedly shelved.
The country’s five existing reactors have operating licenses that expire between 2020 and 2040.
A brave and sensible step taken by the swiss government and we hope more countries would follow and help sustain our environment and safety of people.