One day after Swiss energy company BKW said it would shut down its Mühleberg nuclear power station in 2019, Swiss newspapers are describing the move as historic and significant. They also say it doesn’t quite spell the end of atomic energy.
As the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) pointed out, this was the first time in Switzerland that an electricity company had publicly announced a closure date for a nuclear power plant. Previously, BKW had said it wouldn’t keep the station near Bern in operation after 2022.
“However, 2019 isn’t carved in stone yet. But it’s ideal from the perspective of BKW,” said the newspaper, questioning the safety of the system and noting that Mühleberg will have to close in 2017 already if it fails to meet the requirements of the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate. This could well cost more than the CHF15 million ($16.66 million) estimated by BKW.
Another force that could influence the shut-down date? The people of canton Bern, said the NZZ, referring to an initiative pushing for the immediate closure of the 43-year-old power station.
“How will the voters interpret this BKW decision? As a reasonable step or as a tactical manoeuvre to avoid major safety investments?”
Le Temps in Geneva said Wednesday’s announcement was the “first concrete decision of Switzerland’s post-nuclear strategy”.
Parliament will now be under pressure, it continued, “because it has a first deadline to replace a chunk of electricity – 13% as it happens – generated by nuclear power plants”.
But it was concerned by statements made by BKW’s boss saying that the group wouldn’t be able to produce enough renewable energy and that to make up the difference, Switzerland would have to import electricity generated by nuclear power stations or fossil fuels.
“What’s the point in shutting Swiss nuclear sites if we end up having to import identical electricity and increasing our dependence on other countries?”
The time has come, according to Le Temps, to introduce diversified energy – which “the whole world is hoping and praying for” – but which is proving hard to implement.
“There will need to be a bit of everything: hydro-electric, solar, wind, and above all the admission that substituting nuclear power – currently concentrated in five clearly confined sites – will change the territorial distribution of the production sites. There will be more [sites] and they will be spread around the country. That will inevitably require some concessions.”
The Tages-Anzeiger in Zurich echoed this sentiment, highlighting the significance of BKW’s commitment to investing in hydro-electric and wind power at home and abroad – something more important than the foreseeable end of Mühleberg.
“This is good for the ‘Energy Perspectives 2050’ – which the cabinet and parliament want to usher in to the new age of energy in Switzerland,” said the paper, noting that up until now, one could only have spoken of a “half-departure” from nuclear power in Switzerland.
Yet this hardly signals the end of the Swiss nuclear lobby, said the Tages-Anzeiger, reminding readers that applications for the construction of three new nuclear power plants are still on the table.
“Switzerland’s biggest party, the Swiss People’s Party – as well as the Radical Party – are still committed to nuclear power. So it seems the wrangling over atomic energy will continue over the coming years, but at least not regarding Mühleberg and its contribution.”
In summary, to quote the NZZ: “The case of Mühleberg exemplifies the fact that despite the decision of the cabinet and parliament to drop nuclear energy, this game of nuclear poker has yet to be settled.”