Nuclear Power Out, Renewables In: Swiss Voters Decide On Country’s Energy Future

In Switzerland, voters have just decided to phase out nuclear power in favor of renewable energy.

Over 58 percent of votes emerged Sunday, May 21, to favor the Energy Strategy program and ban new nuclear power plants, promote renewables, and lower energy consumption in the country.

Victory For Energy Strategy Proponents

The results were lauded by the law’s backers as a “historic step for Switzerland,” while opponents were quick to warn of energy shortage in the winter.

"After six years of debate in parliament and at committee level, a new chapter in Switzerland's energy policy can begin. But there is still a lot of work to do,” said energy minister Doris Leuthard at a media conference.

The European nation has five aging nuclear power plants, providing one-third of its energy needs at present. While there isn’t an exact date yet for their decommissioning, Switzerland will not seek to increase its dependence on solar, wind, hydro, and other renewable power sources.

While the majority favored the government’s pro-renewables stance, those living close to the five nuclear reactors — with the most to lose on the nuclear shutdown — clearly rejected the reform through the vote results.

It was a turbulent run for the whole campaign, which was the eighth time that Swiss voters gave their say on nuclear energy through a nationwide ballot.

For the law’s supporters, it will make the country less reliant on energy imports while satisfying high supply requirements, as well as mitigate environmental effects.

For opponents, on the other hand, moving away from nuclear energy would translate to greater consumer costs, excess bureaucracy, and a likely energy shortage.

Energy Prospects For Switzerland

Regula Rytz, president of Swiss Green party, deemed the vote “absolutely magnificent” and a moment of “historic change.”

“The conditions have also been set whereby the economy and households will need to take responsibility for the future,” Rytz said.

Leuthard emphasized the need to increase buildings’ energy efficiency, as well as to find solutions for loss-incurring hydropower facilities.

The government first put forward its nuclear phaseout recommendations after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan and its Fukushima plant.

With the new vote, nuclear energy will be gradually phased out beginning in 2019. The five reactors, accounting for around 38 percent of total energy in Switzerland, will be shut down if deemed unsafe by the country’s nuclear watchdog.

Solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy will see an output increase, while hydroelectric utilities can expect added subsidies.

Back in November, a referendum that asked if nuclear plants’ lifespan should be limited to 45 years failed to get plenty of support.

Hanford Nuclear Incident

In the United States, an underground tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation facility recently collapsed. The site has been operating as a depository of radioactive nuclear waste since 1980, which nuclear waste removal at the area costing the government over $2 billion each year supposedly until 2040.

The collapse was detected during a routine inspection, and the radioactive risks emanated from the plutonium uranium extraction plant (PUREX). Hanford provided the plutonium needed for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan.

Radioactive materials are feared to pose serious human health harm when decaying radioactive isotopes emit radiation and kill DNA of cells.

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