Switzerland Votes To Phase Out Nuclear Power

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Switzerland voted to phase out its use of nuclear power Sunday and largely replace it with energy from wind turbines and solar panels.

Roughly 58 percent of Swiss voters supported the energy shift, which will gradually decommission the country’s five nuclear reactors. The Swiss will shut down their last nuclear power plant in 2050.

Switzerland also voted to reduce average energy consumption per person 16 percent below 2000 levels by 2020 and 43 percent by 2035.

The country’s largest political party, the populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), opposed the plan while smaller parties, like the Greens, joined together to supported it. Only 42.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the referendum.

SVP claims the energy shift will cost around $205 billion, will threaten Switzerland’s energy supply and could “disfigure” the country’s pristine natural landscape with more wind turbines and solar panels.

The right-wing party SVP claims phasing out nuclear power will cost the average household an additional $3,300 a year. SVP claimed the government was running an “official propaganda” campaign “in favour of this dangerous energy shift.”

The Greens argued eliminating aging nuclear power would help the wind and solar energy industries.

“This is a historic day for the country,”  Adele Thorens Goumaz, a Green Party parliamentarian, told public broadcaster RTS. “Switzerland will finally enter the 21st century when it comes to energy.”

Switzerland gets about 40 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, according to the World Nuclear Association.

In a previous referendum last November, 54.2 percent of Swiss voters rejected another plan to shut down the country’s nuclear reactors.

Had it been successful, the vote would have forced the country to shut down three of the country’s five nuclear reactors next year and remaining two reactors by 2029. The initiative would have limited the life span of nuclear plants to 45 years, so the newest of the plants, which began operating in 1984, would have had to close in 2029.

Under Switzerland’s constitution, referendums need support from both a majority of the country’s equivalent of states and a majority of the national vote to pass. Only six of Switzerland’s 26 states backed the nuclear shut down plan, and only 45.8 percent of the population voted for it.

Western European countries have broadly shifted away from nuclear power, particularly in neighboring Germany, where the government decided to abandon nuclear energy entirely.

In the year 2000, nuclear power made up 29.5 percent of Germany’s energy. By 2015, that share has dropped down to 17 percent. By 2022, Germany intends to shutdown every one of its nuclear plants. The German government estimates the cost of replacing nuclear power with wind and solar is estimated to be over one trillion euros without any assurances the program will actually reduce emissions.

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