Bright future for Swiss nuclear energy?

Greenpeace activists were waiting for nuclear waste which returned to Switzerland this week Keystone Archive

The Senate has come out against plans to phase out nuclear energy and to ban the reprocessing of spent fuel rods.

This content was published on December 13, 2001 - 18:15

Instead it proposed a moratorium on the reprocessing of fuel rods.

A majority of the Senators in parliament on Thursday rejected proposals by environmentalists to gradually shut down the country's five nuclear power stations.

It also voted down a proposal to extend a ten-year moratorium, imposed in the early 1990s, on the construction of new nuclear plants. In addition, the Senate rejected a government proposal to ban the reprocessing of spent fuel rods.

The House of Representatives has still to discuss the proposals.

Reprocessing

For the past 25 years Switzerland has sent nuclear its nuclear waste, including spent fuel rods, to British and French reprocessing plants in Sellafield and La Hague.

There the waste is reprocessed to extract and separate the uranium and plutonium it contains. The plutonium and the uranium - which is then re-enriched - can then be used again in special reactors, known as European Pressurised Reactors (EPR).

The plant in La Hague reprocesses fuel rods from Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Switzerland is its third biggest customer.

The first shipment

For the first time on Wednesday, Switzerland received the first transport of reprocessed fuel from La Hague. The 11 tons of nuclear waste were the first of at least three transports expected over the next year.

They are part of 760 tons of waste Switzerland has sent to the French plant since 1975.

Beat Wieland of the Federal Energy Office told swissinfo that the return of nuclear waste to Switzerland was made possible after the opening of central interim storage facilities in northern Switzerland.

The move was welcomed by the environmental organisation, Greenpeace. It said it was about time Switzerland took on responsibility for its own nuclear waste.

The spent fuel rods are encased in glass and will be stored in for up to 50 years. During this time it is expected to lose enough of its radioactivity to be transported to a "geological warehouse", possibly in the heart of a mountain, for final storage.

However, Switzerland does not dispose of such a geological repository. Plans to build such a site in central Switzerland have met strong opposition.

Replacing nuclear energy

Environmental organisations and the Green Party say Switzerland should phase out nuclear energy. The head of the Swiss branch of Greenpeace, Kaspar Schuler, said there is scientific proof that Switzerland can afford to do without nuclear energy.

This could be achieved y promoting alternative energy and energy saving methods as well as by reducing the export of nuclear energy, Schuler told swissinfo.

However, Beat Wieland from the Federal Energy Office, disagrees: "For the moment it would be very hard to do without nuclear energy. Especially in peak periods we would have a shortage of electricity. Because nuclear energy makes for about 40 per cent of Switzerland's energy production."

swissinfo with agencies

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