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Swiss suspend nuclear plant process

Japan has been evacuating people from around the Fukushima site Reuters

Energy Minister Doris Leuthard has decided to suspend all current requests to build new replacement nuclear power stations in Switzerland.

Announcing the move on Monday, the minister said that she had asked for safety at all existing plants to be reexamined following two post-quake and tsunami explosions at a site in Japan.

“Safety and the wellbeing of the population has utmost priority,” said the minister.

Leuthard said she had decided after discussions with experts from the Federal Energy Office and the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate on Monday morning to halt the three requests until safety standards had been checked and, if needed, revised.

She said the cabinet was being kept informed of the situation.

A safety test is already taking place at the Mühleberg plant in canton Bern.

Safety standards

The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate has been mandated to analyse the cause of the accident in Japan and to come up with new or stricter safety standards, especially in the areas of earthquake safety and cooling, said the statement.

The experts’ conclusions would then be applied to existing sites, as well as to the planned sites. No permission for new sites can be granted until the experts have reported back, said the minister.

Inspectorate experts are in contact with other authorities, including the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

There is no direct danger for the Swiss population, according to the Inspectorate.

Technicians have been battling to cool three reactors at the Fukushima 1 plant since Friday, when the quake and tsunami combined to knock out the cooling system.

Officials said the reactor core was still intact after the latest explosion at the weekend – the second – and that radiation levels were below legal limits. A third reactor is reported to have lost its cooling system.

Switzerland currently has five nuclear reactors which generate about 40% of the country’s energy but will gradually come off the power grid as of 2019.

In 1990 voters approved a ten-year moratorium for the construction of new nuclear power plants. In 2003 – three years after the end of the freeze – the electorate rejected an extension of or definite withdrawal from nuclear energy programmes.

Three sites for new nuclear power stations  – Beznau, Gösgen and Mühleberg – have been given the stamp of approval by the national regulatory authorities.

It is widely expected that Swiss voters will have the final say on the construction of new reactors in a nationwide ballot in 2013 or 2014.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR