Switzerland has four nuclear reactor units in commercial operation at three sites – Beznau-1 and -2, Gösgen, and Leibstadt – which provided about 33% of the country’s electricity in 2020.
According to the Tages-Anzeiger, the Swiss government is worried of power shortages if nuclear power plants close earlier in view of the recently failed negotiations on an agreement on electric power exchange between EU countries and Switzerland.
In 2017, the Swiss voted to ban the construction of new nuclear plants and to phase out nuclear power when existing plants would reach the end of their lifespans set at 50 years of operation, under a 2014 strategic planning specification.
The Tages-Anzeiger said the idea for extending the lifetime to 60 years was not new and had already been considered in 2019 when energy authorities developed several scenarios for power production and consumption.
Under local regulations, Swiss nuclear plants need to pass a comprehensive safety check periodically which usually results in retrofitting investment. However, operators usually seek guarantees of its future viability. There is no actual licence renewal as in principle the operating permits are limitless under Swiss law as long as safety requirements are met.
Opponents to the shutting down of nuclear plants have warned that the government’s plans to push renewables and energy savings are costly, pose risks to energy security and will not be environmentally friendly.
The Swiss government has argued that increased safety standards mean it is no longer cost-effective to build or maintain nuclear power plants.
An October 2018 report by the International Energy Agency warned that Switzerland’s nuclear phaseout will create an energy gap of at least 20 TWh a year that will need to be replaced with other generation technologies, possibly including new fossil fuel capacity.
Beznau-1 and -2 have been operational for 52 and 49 years, Gösgen for 42 and Leibstadt for 37 years. In December 2019, operators retired the Mühleberg plant after 47 years of operation, because investments in its future operation were seen as no longer viable.