Switzerland backtracks on nuclear closures

Government withdraws proposal to fix power station lives, bucking European trend

The Swiss government today reversed a previous proposal to set fixed closure dates for the country's nuclear power stations, arguing that the policy would hurt the economy and hinder efforts to cut emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). The decision marks the first time in several years that a western European government has bucked a general trend towards switching out of nuclear, though hot debate is continuing in Finland over whether to build a new nuclear power station.

Taken by Switzerland's federal council, the decision to "renounce" fixed power station closure dates follows a period of consultation on a draft law to replace the country's current nuclear energy legislation. This was first proposed last summer (ENDS Daily 8 June 1999) and went out to consultation in March (ENDS Daily 8 March).

According to the government, a majority of consultees opposed setting fixed closure dates for power stations, while a minority favoured maximum operating lives of between 30 and 60 years. In a statement, the government said it now had reached a decision "in principle" that proceeding with the policy would lead to "significant losses for the economy".

Allowing power stations instead to operate as long as their safety could be assured would increase the chances of Switzerland meeting its Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction commitments and would also "give extra time to develop substitute [forms of] energy".

Although the government made no mention of this, its change of heart also comes just one week after the Swiss people rejected three propositions to tax non-renewable energies (ENDS Daily 25 September).

A new draft law would now be proposed to both parliamentary houses in March 2001, the government said, and a final decision could then be subjected to a popular referendum. The whole process could take one to two years. Meanwhile, two popular anti-nuclear initiatives have still to be examined by the Swiss parliament (ENDS Daily 15 November 1999).

Follow Up:
Swiss federal council; Swiss environment and energy ministry, tel: +41 31 322 5636, and press release.

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