A group of Swiss residents and environmental organisations are threatening to file a legal complaint against the federal nuclear inspectorate, urging it to close the aging Beznau nuclear power station. They say the plant cannot resist a powerful earthquake.
On Thursday a dozen residents, Greenpeace, the Tri-national Association of Nuclear Protection (ATPN) and the Swiss Energy Foundation (SES) said they had uncovered this serious safety flaw at the two Beznau plants (commissioned in 1969 and 1972).
After the disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in March 2011, the government demanded Axpo, the Beznau plant operator, and other nuclear companies to step up their safety margins to make sure they were adequately flood and earthquake-proof.
The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) said the results of an analysis published in June found that “Swiss nuclear power plants fulfill basic legal requirements and have safety margins”. This included for earthquakes and large floods, which statistically, only happen every 10,000 years, ENSI said.
But Greenpeace and the other critics say the results showed that “unacceptable quantities of radioactivity would escape from the reactors if such an accident occurred.”
"Wrong radioactivity limits"
Florian Kasser, from Greenpeace Switzerland, said they had completed a detailed risk analysis, which concluded that the law was not being properly adhered to and wrong standards and radioactivity limits were being applied.
The federal authorities say that in the event of an earthquake the radioactivity limit of 78 millisievert (mSv) can be applied. The current limit is 100mSv. But Greenpeace says it should be 1 mSv.
“Beznau should be taken offline if the correct norms were applied,” said Kasser.
In reply, Axpo told Swiss public television RTS in a written statement: “Beznau’s nuclear plant meets the highest possible safety standards. All seismic tests have been passed. All requests from the authorities have always been met.”
The critics say if ENSI does not review its radioactivity standards they will take their case to the Swiss courts.
Four of the country’s five reactors are temporarily offline for different reasons. Since August 14 block 2 at the nuclear power plant Beznau in canton Aargau has been offline. It will be out of service for four months while maintenance is carried out. Among the planned tasks is the replacement of the reactor pressure vessel cover. Block 1 at the plant has been out of service since March due to irregularities in the pressure vessel. Weak spots were found in the 15cm steel covering of the vessel.
Nuclear power plants in Leibstadt and Mühleberg are also currently not producing any energy due to annual maintenance service.
After the Fukushima disaster, the Swiss government decided to decommission all five of Switzerland’s nuclear power plants, starting in 2019 and ending by 2034. However, no exact dates were given for the individual reactors to be shut down.
swissinfo.ch with agencies