Government sticks with nuclear power

The Beznau nuclear power plants went online in the early 1970s Keystone

Atomic energy remains on the cards for the Swiss after the government decided new nuclear power plants were needed to prevent a power shortfall after 2020.

This content was published on February 21, 2007

The authorities announced on Wednesday their new energy policy, which also focuses on efficiency, renewable sources and large gas-fired power plants.

"The replacement or construction of new nuclear power stations is necessary," said Energy Minister Moritz Leuenberger.

The government predicts that, due to growing demand, current measures will be unable to guarantee Switzerland's medium to long-term energy supply.

Switzerland is dependent on oil, gas and to some extent electricity from abroad. Added to this, carbon dioxide emissions have to be reduced to meet targets set in the Kyoto protocol.

"We can't carry on as we have been up to now, otherwise we are going to run into supply problems," said Leuenberger.

He described energy-saving measures as the key to securing Switzerland's long-term supply of energy.

"But I don't mean just taking a cold shower or drawing the curtains," he said.

Energy efficiency saves money, improves the efficiency of the economy and acts as an incentive for investing in new technologies, he added.

Shortage expected

Under the new strategy, the government also places considerable emphasis on renewable energy.

Hydropower should be sustained and developed as Switzerland's most important local source of renewable energy, the minister said.

However, a shortage of electricity is expected by 2020, which can only be partly met by conventional technologies and imports. As a result, gas power stations will also be built as a temporary measure, but any additional carbon dioxide emissions they produce must be compensated.

Another axis of the new strategy involves better international cooperation, especially with the European Union, said Leuenberger. Switzerland hopes to become part of the European trade in CO2 certificates as soon as possible.

And ahead of requests from the electricity industry, the government will examine whether authorisation procedures and building regulations can be eased.

By the end of the year, Leuenberger's ministry is expected to produce an action plan detailing how the government can implement its new policy, which was decided upon after much discussion in cabinet.

It will detail measures such as a proposed CO2 tax, minimum energy standards for buildings and equipment as well as a system for the importation of energy-efficient cars.

By 2035 the aim is to reduce the use of hydrocarbon and combustible fuels by 30 to 50 per cent, and to improve energy efficiency by one per cent per annually, said Leuenberger.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Energy consumption (2005)
Fuels 31.1%
Heating oil 25.4%
Electricity 23.2%
Gas 12.2%
Other energy sources (Coal, wood, etc) 7.2%
Other renewable energy sources (Sun, wind, etc.) 0.9%
Source: Federal Energy Office

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Nuclear power

There are four nuclear power plants and five reactors in Switzerland. In 2003, they produced nearly 26,000 million kilowatt hours.

38% of Swiss electricity is produced by nuclear plants. The average for Europe is 33% (France: 78%/59 working reactors; Britain: 20%/23 reactors; Germany: 32%/17 reactors).

Following the new energy law, in effect since February 1, 2005, new nuclear power plants could be subject to a referendum.

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