Switzerland Faces Supply Challenges Without Nuclear, Says IEA

By David Dalton
3 July 2012

3 Jul (NucNet): Switzerland faces challenges as it seeks to cut greenhouse gas emissions using domestic measures by a fifth by 2020 and phase out nuclear power, according to a review of the country’s energy policies published today by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA report, ‘Energy Policies of IEA Countries – Switzerland 2012 Review’, says in the absence of nuclear power, maintaining sufficient electricity capacity will require strong policies to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Such policies have already been outlined, but they will probably not be enough, the report says. On the supply side, new baseload capacity and imports might be needed. In 2010, Switzerland was a slight net importer of electricity, with 33.4 terawatt hours imported from Germany (44% of the total), France (29%) and Austria (24%). Switzerland also imports all the oil and gas it uses.

The report says since nuclear energy provides 40 percent of Switzerland’s electricity generation, the decision to phase it out is “very significant”.

Although the notion of “operational lifetime” of nuclear power plants does not exist in Switzerland, the actual end of operation could occur in the period from 2019 to 2034, with the largest plants retiring towards the end of this period. It may take longer, however, because under Swiss law nuclear plants may operate as long as they meet the safety criteria.

Meanwhile, the report says, Swiss authorities need to work with the nuclear industry to increase confidence in the safe operation of existing nuclear power plants because “nuclear plants in Switzerland are expected to continue their operation for a long time”.

The government must “continue to show leadership” in building nuclear waste repositories and developing mechanisms for further public involvement in the siting process. Government must “ensure that sufficient human and financial resources are available for the safe operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plants, and for supporting the associated R&D”.

In September 2011, the Swiss Senate approved proposals not to replace the country’s nuclear plants and to opt for a nuclear-free future in the wake of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan.

The Senate followed the House of Representatives, which voted in June 2011 to support a proposed exit from nuclear energy recommended by the government, which after Fukushima-Daiichi had frozen plans for a new construction programme.

Before the Fukushima-Daiichi accident in Japan, the government had been expected to announce a decision on possible new nuclear build in 2012.

Switzerland’s five nuclear reactor units are located at four sites: Beznau, Leibstadt, Gösgen and Mühleberg.

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