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Soaring temperatures take toll

Livestock are also suffering

(Keystone)

The unrelenting European heatwave is taking its toll on Swiss forests and rivers, electricity supplies and vegetable harvests.

Tuesday was the hottest day of the year, with temperatures rising to at least 35 degrees in seven different parts of the country. The national weather service says there will be no cooling down before Friday.

The federal environment office warned of a high risk of forest fires on Tuesday due to the lack of rain. The capital of canton Graubünden, Chur, announced an outright ban on national day fireworks on August 1, becoming the first Swiss town to do so, and will decide on Friday whether to ban barbecues and grills as well.

It followed a decision by cantons Vaud and Valais to introduce a ban on lighting fires and limits on fireworks for Swiss national day.

The environment office said the risk of forest fires is greater on the north side of the Alps. In 2003, a record hot summer when temperatures edged above 40 degrees and water levels dropped to dangerously low levels, the situation was reversed with the south side seeing less rain.

The authorities also reported rapidly rising temperatures in rivers and streams. It said some bodies of water were up to 28 degrees. The River Rhine at Basel was 25 degrees, while the normally frigid River Aare that flows through the capital, Bern, was 21 degrees.

Nuclear power

The unusually warm rivers have created problems for Switzerland's nuclear power plants. The plants use the water from the rivers to cool their reactors, but the water entering the plant is not permitted to be warmer than 18 degrees. This has forced the nuclear industry to cut production by up to 15 per cent at a time when demand is at its highest.

The increased usage of electricity has driven prices to near record levels. The price for a megawatt hour climbed on Monday to SFr303 ($244) on the Swiss Electricity Price Index, which was the highest since August 12, 2003.

Vegetable farmers are also making comparisons to 2003. The heatwave and lack of rain has forced them to irrigate their lettuce, tomato and courgette patches round the clock. They said this had doubled production costs.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Number of days above 30 degrees C between July 1 and July 23:
Sion 16
Geneva 14
Chur 13
Basel, Bern 12
Zurich 11

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