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Switzerland's nuclear family

The Meier-Ulrich family can see the Leibstadt nuclear station from their kitchen window (swissinfo)

(The Meier-Ulrich family can see the Leibstadt nuclear station from their kitchen window (swissinfo))

While the closest some Swiss get to nuclear power is the electricity it generates, for others an atomic plant is part of their surroundings.

swissinfo's Faryal Mirza went to meet a family in northern Switzerland who have a nuclear power plant on their doorstep.

The village of Full in canton Aargau sits neatly on the banks of the river Rhine near the border with Germany.

It's here that the Meier-Ulrich family have their organic farm, Bio-Meier, which has produced beef, prize-winning carrots and other vegetables since 1986.

But the family's links to the land go back over a century. Farmer Hanspeter is the fifth generation of Meiers to farm this land.

Unwelcome neighbour

For the past few years, the land on which he grew up has had an unwelcome neighbour - the nuclear power station in neighbouring Leibstadt.

The Leibstadt plant has been in operation since 1984 and is Switzerland's largest power station. Its grey water tower - measuring 144 metres - stands out against the bucolic landscape.

Hanspeter tells me he was against the project to build the power station from the start, as he is opposed to nuclear power.

"I hate [the plant]. This way to produce energy is wrong. I think it's the wrong way to look for our future," he says.

However, when Leibstadt was built, he refused to move.

"I was born here, I'm living here and I was here first!" he adds defiantly.

Nuclear waste

His wife, Susanne Ulrich, is not originally from the area but has been living there for 15 years.

She and her husband disagree fundamentally over the issue of nuclear power.

She has nothing against this modern method of generating electricity, but is concerned about the problem of nuclear waste.

"I'm very scared about the waste nuclear works make. Nobody knows where to put it. It is not okay to leave all this rubbish to the next generations. I am very afraid that it comes back like a boomerang," Susanne says.

She explains that, although she and her family do not spend every day thinking about Leibstadt, it's impossible to ignore its presence.

"Always at four o'clock in the afternoon, we have this big shadow over our fields because the steam of the tower goes before the sun," she says referring to the water clouds expelled by the nuclear station, a by-product of the generating process.

Indifferent children

The couple have two children: nine-year-old Mira and 12-year-old Moritz, who were born and brought up in the area.

When I ask Moritz what he thinks about Leibstadt being within spitting distance of his home, he replies that he does not think about it all. "Es ist mir egal", he replies, or "I'm indifferent".

Susanne and Hanspeter explain that they have been careful not to force their views on their children.

"Our children are not political and they are too young for this. They have to play with their friends and I don't like it if their parents or we talk about this problem," says Hanspeter.

From what the parents say, there is a danger that Mira and Moritz would be ostracised within the community if they were to voice anti-nuclear opinions.

"It's not good for our children if all the other children say 'ha ha, your parents are against this nuclear station'," explains Hanspeter.

Keeping it quiet

Susanne believes that there's another good reason why her children do not profess to have an opinion either way.

"A lot of the parents of their friends work at this nuclear power station," she says.

Leibstadt employs 400 people, many of whom live near their place of work.

Susanne and Hanspeter also keep a low profile within the community, taking care not to shout their opinions from the pretty rooftops of Full.

"We don't write letters to the local newspapers ... [there's a reason] why we only talk freely to [organisations like] swissinfo/Swiss Radio International," Susanne smiles.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

In brief

The Meier-Ulrich family can see trees, fields, and a nuclear power plant from their kitchen window.

The family live on their organic farm in Full, canton Aargau, where they raise cattle and grow vegetables.

Husband and wife, Hanspeter and Susanne, hold different views on nuclear power.

Hanspeter is opposed to nuclear power in general, while Susanne is worried about the disposal of nuclear waste.

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