The risks of a rapid nuclear exit

The Green Party wants to deactivate Swiss nuclear power stations after 45 operating years. Their initiative before voters on November 27 endangers the security and cleanliness of the energy supply, writes Hans-Ulrich Bigler, president of the Swiss Nuclear Forum.

This content was published on November 2, 2016 minutes
Hans-Ulrich Bigler, president of the Swiss Nuclear Forum and Radical Party parliamentarian

The people’s initiative “for an orderly exit from nuclear power” demands the permanent closure of the nuclear power plant Beznau I a year after the initiative passes, and the closure of Switzerland’s remaining nuclear power plants after a 45-year operating life.

As both Beznau II and Mühleberg already exceeded this age limit when the first signatures were collected, a “yes” vote to the initiative would mean that three plants would have to close at once in 2017.

Hans-Ulrich Bigler studied economics and business. He has been director of the Swiss Industrial Association since 2008 and president of the Swiss Nuclear Forum since 2016. In 2015, Bigler was elected to parliament as a representative of the centre-right Radical Party. Keystone

The long timeframe that BKW Energie is already planning for the closure of Mühleberg at the end of 2019 makes clear that the closure of three plants within a year could not take place in an “orderly” fashion. Within a year, 15% of the electricity produced in Switzerland would have to be replaced. If Gösgen were closed in 2024 and Leibstadt in 2029, around 40%External link of Switzerland’s electricity supply would be lost.

More air pollution 

Given the pace of growth in renewable energies in Switzerland in the past, it is clear that only two alternatives to nuclear power would be available within a workable timeframe: Gas power stations and electricity imports. If the electricity produced in Swiss nuclear power plants were instead to be produced in modern combined cycle power plants, the air would be contaminated with additional CO2 equivalent to the amount currently emitted by all the cars in Switzerland together.

Environmental organisations acknowledge this and also oppose gas power plants, so the only remaining alternative is to import the necessary electricity from abroad – and in order to replace the supply from the two Beznau reactors and Mühleberg power station, this would be the only option from the start.

Europe’s big electricity exporters are Germany and France. Nuclear power accounts for about 75% of France’s supply, and in Germany, 20 years after the energy revolution was announced, about 40% of the electricity supply still comes from coal-fired power plants.

Neither of these options can be in the interest of those promoting the nuclear exit initiative. Electricity consumption in Switzerland and in the rest of the world has increased steadily in the past. There is no reason to think this will change much in the future. If production capacity in the countries whose exports we are relying on fail to keep up with these developments, then importers like Switzerland will be left high and dry.

No experiments with energy policy

Rising electricity imports and the higher costs that entails, as well as greater dependence on foreign supply, are not in the interest of industry, business or households. A reliable electricity supply is an extremely valuable asset.

Renouncing nuclear energy, which is used around the world and equips us for the future, creates unnecessary problems – particularly if it is all to happen within a few years. The Swiss economy currently faces tough competitive conditions; this is a bad environment for risky experiments in energy policy.

The current proven and reliable electricity supply in Switzerland is an advantage for the business environment that should be preserved. Today’s electricity mix is beneficial for both business and the environment. Switzerland would be well-advised against casually eliminating the option of nuclear energy with all its advantages. An overly hasty exit from nuclear power would put our reliable, clean electricity supply at risk, damage the environment, and cause billions in unnecessary costs.

The only sensible answer is a “no” vote to the nuclear exit initiative on November 27 – in line with recommendations from the government, a parliamentary majority, business associations and the cantonal energy directors.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of publishes op-ed articles by contributors writing on a wide range of topics – Swiss issues or those that impact Switzerland. The selection of articles presents a diversity of opinions designed to enrich the debate on the issues discussed.

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