The Federal Court has upheld a complaint by energy company BKW, overturning a decision by the Federal Administrative Court ordering the closure of the Mühleberg nuclear power station near Bern by June 28.
Energy Minister Doris Leuthard welcomed the court decision, adding that the ruling clarified the legal situation. Speaking in Bern, she said that BKW would now have to implement a set of safety measures demanded by the authorities based on a strict timetable.
In March last year, the administrative court ruled Mühleberg must go offline for security reasons, including insufficient resistance to earthquakes and lack of cooling outside the nearby River Aare.
Built in 1972, Mühleberg is frequently cited by opponents of nuclear energy as ripe for closure.
A stay of execution was to be granted only if the operators, BKW, showed they were prepared to invest massively in maintenance and repairs.
The judges had also demanded that BKW apply to the environment ministry for a permit to continue to operate, in addition to supplying a comprehensive concept for long-term maintenance.
BKW handed in the requested documents in August. In December, these documents were approved by the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI). However, ENSI set out ten requirements for BKW if Mühleberg was to continue operating beyond 2017.
Following Thursday’s decision by the federal court, BKW can now concentrate on these requirements.
“Not a setback”
Following Thursday’s decision, Leuthard said she believed safety would also be boosted as the operators could continue to run Mühleberg, stating that if a deadline had been maintained, BKW might have been tempted to neglect safety issues.
She added that the ruling was not a setback for the government’s energy strategy, which should see the country’s five nuclear power plants shut down by 2034.
BKW chairman Urs Gasche warned though that it didn’t mean the company would be relying on nuclear energy for the longer term, preferring to hedge its bets and continue developing renewables.
Gasche said the latest court decision changed nothing for BKW. The company still expected to respond to ENSI's demands by the middle of the year and to prepare an implementation plan.
BKW will consider all the options until the end of the year and decide if it still makes economic sense to invest at Mühleberg. Gasche said it was too early to reveal what measures could be taken or how much they would cost, adding that it was more important to have an orderly timeline for the closure of the plant.
It could be operational until 2017 without any investments, said BKW CEO Suzanne Thoma. After that, the plant would have to be retro-fitted to meet safety and operating standards.
Mühleberg opponents said they were disappointed by the court’s decision. The Greenpeace and the Fokus Anti-Atom associations called on BKW to come to its senses and abandon the nuclear plant.
They warned that the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011 had clearly shown the “disastrous risks of a nuclear accident in an old and poorly maintained facility”. They added that the court’s ruling was incomprehensible.
Rainer Weibel, lawyer for the parties demanding the closure of Mühleberg, said in Lausanne that the judges had given ENSI the power to decide what would happen to the plant, effectively silencing the population.
Weibel said opponents would continue to fight for a Mühleberg shutdown. A request demanding the withdrawal of its operating licence was filed with the Federal Court straight after the Fukushima disaster.