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Nuclear power wins reprieve from government

The Mühleberg nuclear power plant near Berne


The government has refused to set a deadline for phasing out nuclear energy. The cabinet said on Monday that as long as safety was assured there was no reason to close down Switzerland's nuclear power plants.

The government defended its decision on both commercial and environmental grounds.

It said that phasing out nuclear power would damage the economy by pushing up the cost of energy.

It added that it would also make it more difficult for Switzerland to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to levels agreed at the Kyoto environmental summit.

The government said its decision was motivated in part by a need to provide Switzerland's energy producers with more time to develop alternative sources of energy.

The decision is likely to prove extremely controversial. Although a majority of Swiss voters have rejected phasing out nuclear energy on three occasions in the past, environmental organisations have collected sufficient signatures to force two further votes on the issue.

One initiative calls for Switzerland to phase out nuclear power within 10 years; the other demands a 10-year extension of an existing moratorium on building new power plants. Both issues have to be put to a vote by 2003.

Their cause has been helped by Germany's decision earlier this year to close its 19 nuclear power plants within 20 years.

swissinfo with agencies

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