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Swiss ban new nuclear reactors

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Energy Transition

Another setback for the “nuclear renaissance”: Switzerland voted on Friday to focus more on renewables and efficiency. For the first time ever, new nuclear plants are officially off the table—though admittedly, none were planned. The Swiss just “adopted the Energiewende,” writes the Neue Züricher Zeitung. Is no one paying attention? Craig Morris has the details.

Leibstadt nuclear power plant

Leibstadt nuclear power plant. Wikipedia

Now here’s a news item you probably haven’t heard, at least judging from what I can gather on the internet: Switzerland’s new Energy Act (EnergiegesetzPDF) of 30 September 2016. You would think that, given its scope and Switzerland’s central role in Europe’s power sector, the following contents would have warranted a mention at, say, Reuters, CNN, Bloomberg, and Co.:

  • The generation of non-hydro renewable power is to grow from 1.7 TWh last year (PDF in German and French) to 4.4 TWh by 2020 and 11.4 TWh by 2035 (nearly tenfold).
  • “Per capita energy consumption” is to shrink by 16 percent from 2000 to 2020 and by 43 percent by 2035. “Per capita” is an important caveat in a small country whose population can easily grow quickly. (Switzerland’s is up around 10 percent over the past decade, like even smaller Norway’s.) Unfortunately, the law does not specify the most important aspect here: final or primaryenergy?
  • Power consumption is to drop by 3 percent by 2020 and 13 percent by 2035.
  • The law also, confusingly, speaks of “expanding” hydropower to 37.4 TWh by 2035 – even though it came in at 39.5 TWh last year. (If any readers know how to dissect this, please drop us a comment below.)
  • It amends the 2003 Nuclear Energy Act (here’s the old one) to ban permits for new nuclear reactors. It also bans the reprocessing and export of spent fuel rods for reprocessing (except for research purposes with the consent of the Bundesrat). And “changes may not be made to existing nuclear plants.”

There’s a lot more in the law, much of which deals with the policy mechanisms (level of feed-in tariffs, etc.). But what’s above is a real breakthrough. So why has it gone unreported in English?

One reason may be that a referendum could change everything, as the Swiss press explains (in German). But the report also suggests there is little support for such a referendum in industry, so the referendum may not even take place; in other words, the Swiss business world is happier with renewables and efficiencythan with old-school energy production, consumption, and waste.

Another referendum will be held on 27 November 2016: the one for a closure of the existing reactors (in German). It does not necessarily stand a good chance of passing; parliamentarians overwhelmingly reject it (it’s an idea of the Swiss Greens). On the other hand, a recent survey of the public revealed support for a total phaseout by 2029 (basically, a limited service life of 45 years per reactor). This idea may have as much as 58 percent public support (in German)—possibly another example of politicians out of touch with the people. The first reactor to be shut down would then go offline in 2019. Leibstadt, the youngest, would be the last to go in 2029.

Opponents of the phaseout referendum will reportedly not try to reject the idea of a nuclear phaseout outright. Instead, they will try to win over the “silent majority” of undecided voters in the middle of the political spectrum by simply arguing that setting a specific date or service life for all reactors makes no sense. This clever tactic is likely to succeed, but a quick comparison with the historic debate in Germany over a nuclear phaseout suggests something less savory for nuclear supporters. Remember that slippery slope? By the time you resort to the tactic of “setting a date for a phaseout makes no sense,” you have reached the bottom of it. There is no way back up the slope for nuclear at that point.

Oddly, the Swiss press outlets all report that the new law is part of the government’s “Energy Strategy 2050” even though “2050” is never even mentioned in the new Act. This law is in fact just a starting point. By the end of this year, we will probably know what direction the country is headed.

One wonders when the international media will catch on. Maybe never—or did you know that Switzerland implemented a nuclear phaseout (by 2034) in the wake of Fukushima back in 2011?

Source: Energy Transition. Reproduced with permission.  

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  • howardpatr

    Meanwhile Australia’s “chief scientist”, known backer of nuclear, will be doing the bidding of the LNP Government and blaming renewables for the recent events in SA.

  • Mallu

    This is an exact carbon copy of Swedend half assed phaseout plan, the suport for renewables are way too low to replace nuclear and also Switzerland like Sweden has allready a carbon free electricity production thx to nuclear hydro combo. They are now barking at the wrong tree. Industry and transport remain unchanged, oil comany execs are now laughing their asses off on the way to the bank when they heard about this.

    • nakedChimp

      Mallu, you’re from the US, right?
      You weren’t in Europe when Chernobyl happened.

      People don’t forget such things.
      And high tech is no 100% guarantee to not fail at some point, even in Japan as we had to learn.
      All they plan to do now is putting an EOL sign onto their nukes with surely enough time to get alternatives online.
      They got that covered.

      • Mallu

        Nope I am from Finland, Secondly the main reason why Switzerlands plan is so half baked and poised to fail is that for it to even have chance to work electricty usage must be cut by 8TWH or -13%, Hydro exapansion is helped by laxing nature conservation policy…..riight. Then all energy inensive industry is exempt from paying their renewable surcharges…brilliant I like were this is going. Now this is a bit strange you are selling me an unlimited energy source but the only way for us to make this unlimited source to work is to cut consumption……I smell BS. As for Chernobyl argument the Swiss are not running RBMK reactors and I will promise to give personally money if you can tell me how to replicate Chenrobyl in an LWR reactor or a graphite moderate gas cooled reactor or even a CANDU reactor that is in use in Romania. Good luck you are going to need it.

  • Ren Stimpy

    Officially banning new nuclear is probably redundant with the non-official Hinkley ban now in place. The Hinkley ban works on the principle that anyone who would want to pay £92.50 (€101.75) (AUD$149.85) per MWh, rising with inflation over the next 40 years, must be clinically insane and therefore banned from any further financial decision making.

    • Boyd Colin

      By the same logic, offshore wind, tidal, wave and renewables plus storage are also banned in the UK. In other words, fully decarbonizing the electricity supply is “banned” because it simply isn’t worth paying for. Are you a climate denier too by any chance?

      • Ren Stimpy

        Once upon a time I thought nuclear was the answer to climate change, in
        the short term anyway, but those above numbers along with the immense
        amount of time it has taken to build this nuke have all but
        ended any enthusiasm. You do realise that wind and other renewables and
        storage all reduce in price per output incrementally with each project?
        Nuclear on the other hand, obviously not, probably due the sheer size
        and monumental and unique complexity and risk mitigation requirements of
        each nuclear project. The money invested in this nuke, particular that
        sourced from the government, would have better served climate change
        abatement if it had bought storage and renewables, yes those predictable
        mass-production tech enterprises, where it would have acted to push
        those techs further across their far more defined, predictable cost
        curves. Hmmm?

  • Alex Hromas

    The discrepancy in hydro production is due to Switzerland’s dependence on snow melt. Year before last was a good snow year while the others have been poor and this has big effect on their total production. Moderate head hydro stations have been able to upgrade their output by about 5% installing new Kaplan runners and the Swiss are probably well into this, Snowy Hydro started about 7 years ago. Many of the Swiss stations are high head with Pelton turbines and this option is not available so its back to snow melt

  • grumpy

    The only truly renewable energy is a breeder reactor. The molten salt reactor that the United States had until 1974 when corrupt President Nixon canceled it was a very good choice. These are being built in China now and they will sell them to the rest of the world Kama which is grown too complacent and lazy to build anything practical. The molten salt reactor was unpopular during the Cold War because it isn’t useful for making weapons. However it is really good for eating up nuclear waste from the light Water Reactor. We have a hundred years of nuclear waste to burn if we convert almost all of our energy production to the molten salt reactor. Also it cannot meltdown or create a steam explosion or a hydrogen explosion because there’s no dangerous water inside the reactor.

  • Boyd Colin

    Confusing, tendentious article which tells us more about what a professional Energiewende spin doctor wants us to think than what appears to be actually happening within the Swiss legislature. How can Morris sleep at night knowing he’s guilty of agitating to wreck a well-functioning, low carbon energy system very much like Sweden’s, and replace it with one patterned after the failing, high carbon intensity German model? One with essentially no positive provision for reliable low carbon generation, except more large hydro. Which, we increasingly learn is not even low carbon because of methane releases (although classically innumerate “greens” can’t get their sums right predicting the planned increase as we see, so as usual the true plan is a total mystery)

    In 2016 anti-nuclear environmentalists are either venal, uninformed or mad.