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Swiss reject speedy nuclear phaseout

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GENEVA: Switzerland’s ageing nuclear reactors will keep running for the foreseeable future, after voters Sunday rejected a call to speed up the phaseout of the plants.

A full 54.2 percent of voters and an overwhelming majority of Switzerland’s 26 cantons voted against an initiative which would have forced three of the country’s five nuclear reactors to close next year, according to final results.

Just a few months after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant was destroyed in the March 2011 tsunami disaster, Switzerland decided to gradually close its nuclear plants, but did not set a clear timeline.

The government’s plan is to decommission five ageing reactors, which today produce around a third of the country’s electricity, as they reach the end of their safe operational lifespan.

But 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.

Warning that allowing the reactors to run indefinitely posed a safety risk, the Green Party launched its initiative calling for the reactors to operate for no longer than 45 years.

That would have entailed the final closure next year of Beznau, which has been operating in the northern Swiss canton of Aargau, near the German border for 47 years.

That plant, which has two reactors currently undergoing repairs, became the world’s oldest functioning commercial nuclear plant after Britain’s Oldsbury reactor closed in 2012.

The Muhlberg plant, which opened in Bern canton in 1972, would also have needed to close next year if the Greens had gotten their way, while Gosgen in Solothurn would have shut in 2024 and, finally, Leibstadt in Aargau by 2029.

The Swiss government supports gradually shutting down the plants, but it forcefully opposed the initiative, insisting that Switzerland’s reactors are safe and cautioning that premature closures could “undermine the security of supply”.

In the end, 20 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons rejected the initiative, with the strongest opposition seen in the central canton of Schwyz, where more than 68 percent voted “no”.

Only a handful of mainly French-speaking cantons backed the initiative, with Basel-Town showing strongest support with more than 60 percent of voters there casting their ballot in favour, followed by Geneva, where nearly 59 percent voted “yes”.

Voter participation across Switzerland stood at only around 44 percent.

 

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