Swiss Vote Sunday Could Ban Nuclear Power

Voters in Switzerland on Sunday will have the option of banning nuclear power in the country and appear poised to do so, according to voter surveys. The binding resolution pits nuclear power against subsidies for renewable energy sources, leaving out the option that the two industries can compliment each other.

Muehleberg NPPPolls show 56 percent of voters are in favor of the “Energy Strategy 2050” referendum, which is a slide from the previous gfs.bern research institute survey that showed 61 percent support for the law.

The law proposes a four-fold increase in funding for solar and wind power, although the cost to consumers has widely divergent estimates and could be as high as $3,257 per year. The referendum has also been questioned for its reliance on intermittent power sources, which could impact a society in which energy is required 24 hours a day.

“This law will lead to massive increases in the price of energy while leaving Switzerland without adequate, reliable power, Swiss People's Party leader Toni Brunner said, as quoted by Sify News.

Energy Minister Doris Leuthard, in response, said the bill would only cost consumers about $40 per year.

The wide difference between the two figures depends on perspective. The smallest figure looks at the solar and wind power surcharge, while the larger figure includes the cost of transitioning from coal, gas and nuclear power to one primary based on renewable energy.

The law is expected to raise about $500 million per year from electricity bills. About $450 million raised from a fossil fuel tax would be used, simultaneously, to improve efficiency of energy use in residential and commercial buildings.

Currently, nuclear power provides Switzerland with 35 percent of its electricity generation. Hydro power accounts for 60 percent of the energy mix.

The law calls for a rise in power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal energy sources from the current capacity of 2,831 GWh to 11,400 GWh by 2035.

Previous national votes have confirmed the continued use of nuclear power in Switzerland, which has five operating nuclear power plants. In March 2017, the National Council voted overwhelmingly to continue a contracted arrangement with EDF to supply nuclear-power generated electricity to Switzerland. The country also imports electricity from Austria and Germany.

Nuclear power is currently set up to run its course with plants coming off line as they age. Without constructing new reactors, nuclear power is expected to end in Switzerland by 2034, even though, by itself, nuclear power has strong public support, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The referendum, should it pass, would begin the phase out of nuclear power in 2019.

Switzerland currently operates three pressurized water reactors, Beznau One and Two (which began operations in 1969 and 1972, respectively) and Gosgen, which began operations in 1979. Muhleberg and Leibstadt are boiling water reactors that began operations in 1979 and 1984, respectively. Beznau One and Two each have net capacities of 365 MWe, while Gosgen is rated at 970 MWe. Muhleberg is a 355 MWe reactor, while Leibstadt is rated at 1,165 MWe.

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