Swiss energy company BKW has said it will take its Mühleberg nuclear power station near the capital, Bern, off the grid in 2019. Until then, it will undergo various retro-fitting projects.
BKW took the decision on Wednesday, in what is the latest in many twists and turns in the history of Mühleberg – one of Switzerland’s five nuclear power plants. Built in 1972, Mühleberg is frequently cited by opponents of nuclear energy as ready for closure.
The energy company said it had looked in recent months into various scenarios for the future of Mühleberg and decided – having taken into account all the technical, economic, regulatory and political aspects – to keep it running until 2019, having implemented the necessary safety measures.
It added that not investing in the plant’s long-term running would significantly reduce the business risk and supported an enhanced capacity for hydro-electric and wind energy within Switzerland and abroad, as well as investments in innovative products and services.
No job losses are foreseen, according to BKW.
The government in May 2011 decided to phase out nuclear energy production.
The five plants are to be decommissioned in principle by 2034.
However, no exact dates were given for the individual reactors to be shut down.
Parliament has approved the government decision in principle.
The Supreme Court in March 2013 granted the Mühleberg plant an unlimited operating licence.
Stay of execution
In March 2012, 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.
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 Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate. However, it set out ten requirements for BKW if Mühleberg was to continue operating beyond 2017.
In March 2013, the Federal Court upheld a complaint by BKW, overturning a decision by the Federal Administrative Court ordering the closure of Mühleberg by June 28. As a result, BKW had to implement a set of safety measures demanded by the authorities based on a strict timetable.
Switzerland's five nuclear power reactors generate slightly more than 40% of the country's electricity.
Reactions to the news of the closure have been mixed. The inspectorate said that BKW must submit plans for the remaining time the plant is in operation and for its closure.
“The BKW has decided against an unlimited long-term operation,” said the inspectorate’s director Hans Wanner in a statement on its website. The planning should show how the company would carry out the necessary safety improvements before the plant is shut down.
Environmental groups and the Green Party have reiterated their calls for the Mühleberg site to be closed down immediately over safety concerns. WWF Switzerland said it was a “scandal” that the plant was still running.
The centre-right parties said the decision to close Mühleberg was reasonable. Approving the move, the centre-left Social Democrats said the decision came too late.
For its part, the Environment Ministry said that it had not discussed the decision with BKW ahead of Wednesday’s announcement. “It is purely a company decision,” a senior ministry spokesman told the Swiss news agency.
The decision increases pressure on the Axpo energy group to speed up the closure of the two reactors in Beznau.
swissinfo.ch and agencies