Nuclear power in Switzerland

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Switzerland Nuclear power plants (view)
Location dot red.svg Active plants
Location dot purple.svg Closed plants
An emergency switch-off button of the Beznau Nuclear Power Plant. In 2011, the federal authorities decided to gradually phase out nuclear power in Switzerland.

Nuclear power in Switzerland is generated by four nuclear power plants, with a total of five operational reactors (see list below). In 2013, they produced 24.8 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, down 5.8% from 2007, when 26.4 TWh were produced. Nuclear power accounted for 36.4% of the nation's gross electricity generation of 68.3 TWh, while 57.9% was produced by hydroelectric plants and 5.7% came from conventional thermal power stations and non-hydro renewable energy sources.[1][2]

In addition, there are a number of research reactors in Switzerland, such as the CROCUS reactor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Switzerland uses nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. Any project for the adoption of nuclear weapons was definitively dropped in 1988.[3][4]

In 2011, the federal authorities decided to gradually phase out nuclear power in Switzerland as a consequence of the Fukushima accident in Japan. In late 2013 the operator BKW decided to cease all electrical generation in 2019 in the Mühleberg plant, which has a similar design to Fukushima. Axpo is expected to come up with a similar decision for its aging Beznau Nuclear Power Plant, which houses the oldest commercial reactor of the world.

As of 8 December 2014, the National Council has voted to limit the operational life-time of the Beznau Nuclear Power Plant to 60 years, forcing its two reactors to be decommissioned by 2029 and 2031, respectively. The lower house has also voted in favor of banning the construction of new reactors for commercial usage. However, the adoption of such amendment still has to be confirmed by the Council of States, the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Switzerland. In addition, a citizens' initiative to restrict the operational life-time of nuclear reactors to 45 years will have to be voted upon, irrespective of whether the legislature's amendment will actually come into force or not.[5]


Power reactors[edit]

The 970-megawatt (MW) Gösgen nuclear power plant

Switzerland has four nuclear power plants with five reactors in operation as of 2008: (Beznau and Gösgen also provide district heating in addition to power production)[6]

  • Beznau 1 (1969) and Beznau 2 (1972) (PWR) – 365 MWe each
Plant safety (each unit): Double containment, large dry; 3 trains safety injection, high and low pressure; 3 trains emergency feedwater; part of these ECCS-systems in a bunkerised building; possibilities to connect external water sources
Plant safety: Double containment, pressure suppression (Torus, with water pool of 2200 m3); 4 trains Low pressure core spray; 4 trains RHR (Torus-cooling); 2 turbine-driven HP-systems; part of the ECCS-systems bunkerised; possibilities to connect external water sources
Plant safety: Double containment, large dry; 4 trains for high and low pressure safety injection (50% each); 4 trains emergency feedwater (50% each); 2 additional trains emergency feedwater; part of these ECCS-systems bunkerised; possibilities to connect external water sources
Safety: Double containment (with additional Wet-Well), pressure suppression (water pool of 4000 m3); 4 trains (50% each) Low pressure injection (with 2 trains RHR), 2 diverse trains High pressure injection; 1 additional train with 2 pumps emergency injection (with 1 train RHR); nearly all the ECCS-systems bunkerised; possibility to connect external water sources.

The Mühleberg reactor is owned by BKW (Bernische Kraftwerke AG), majority-owned by the Bern canton. The Beznau reactors are owned by the Axpo Holding, that also control major parts of Leibstadt. Alpiq own 40% of Gosgen and 27.4% of Leibstadt.[6]

Decommissioned reactors[edit]

  • Lucens (1968) (GCHWR) – 6 MWe
A prototypical power reactor, heavy-water moderated and cooled by carbon dioxide. It has been shut down since 1969 after a partial core meltdown. The site has been decontaminated and decommissioned (location: 46°41′34″N 6°49′39″E / 46.692778°N 6.827500°E / 46.692778; 6.827500 (Lucens site)).

Research and teaching reactors[edit]

The reactors that became known as SAPHIR was a 10-100 kW-range swimming-pool reactor of demonstration brought to Switzerland by the U.S. delegation to the First Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy that took place in Geneva in August 1955. It has been the first reactor ever shown in operation to the public, worldwide. After the conference the reactor was purchased by the Swiss government on behalf of Reaktor AG, a consortium interested in the development of nuclear energy in Switzerland. The reactor was moved to Würenlingen on the location of the future Paul Scherrer Institut and received its name, SAPHIR, on 17 May 1957. (The name of the reactor was inspired by the color of the Cherenkov radiation which was visible when the reactor was in operation.) Operable until 1994.
A small heavy water reactor for research, operated 1960 to 1977 at former EIR Würenlingen. There was also, in the context of Cold War, the theoretical idea of producing weapons grade Plutonium in it, besides its research purpose.
  • Proteus
New research reactor of the 1990s at the Paul Scherrer Institute, Würenlingen.
It is a null-power (licensed to 100 W max power) LWR used for teaching at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). CROCUS is a critical assembly, built in part from the elements of a dismantled subcritical assembly: Cactus. The name of the latter originated for the numerous instrumentation bars that came out of the core. CROCUS is another name in the XXXus series for nuclear installations at EPFL, e.g. the D-T nuclear fusion facility: Lotus. (Location: 46°31′16″N 6°34′13″E / 46.521238°N 6.570361°E / 46.521238; 6.570361 (Crocus reactor)).


Extending across the north and south side of the Alps, Switzerland lies at the junction of the Apulian and Eurasian tectonic plates, and there are many active seismic areas under the mountains that show that stresses continue to be released along deep fault lines. The 1356 Basel earthquake is the most significant seismological event to have occurred in Central Europe in recorded history[7] and may have had a Mw magnitude as strong as 7.1.[8]

Between 2002 and 2004 a major study was conducted to assess the seismic risk to Swiss nuclear power plants. The PEGASOS study, which cost around 10 million Swiss Francs (approximately $11 million) and which was conducted by 21 European experts with American involvement,[8] concluded that the earthquake risk in Switzerland is twice as large as had been previously thought.[9]

In 2011, following the nuclear emergencies at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear facilities Swiss Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard announced on 14 March a freeze in the authorisation procedures for three new nuclear power plants (see Politics), and ordered a safety review of the country's existing plants.[10]

There is also ongoing concern in Switzerland over the seismic risks of the Fessenheim Nuclear Power Plant, located in France approximately 40 km (25 mi) from the Swiss border. Following Fukushima the Swiss cantons of Basel-Stadt, Basel-Landschaft and Jura asked the French government to suspend the operation of Fessenheim while undertaking a safety review based on the lessons learned from Japan.[11] On April 6 the Grand Council of Basel-Stadt went further and voted for the plant to be closed.[12]


In Switzerland there have been many referenda on the topic of nuclear energy, beginning in 1979 with a citizens' initiative for nuclear safety, which was rejected. In 1984, there was a vote on an initiative "for a future without further nuclear power stations" with the result being a 55 to 45% vote against. On 23 September 1990 Switzerland had two more referenda about nuclear power. The initiative "stop the construction of nuclear power stations," which proposed a ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants, was passed with 54.5% to 45.5%. The initiative for a phase-out was rejected with by 53% to 47.1%. In 2000 there was a vote on a Green Tax for support of solar energy. It was rejected by 67% to 31%.

On 18 May 2003, there were two referenda: "Electricity without Nuclear," asking for a decision on a nuclear power phase-out, and "Moratorium Plus," for an extension of the earlier decided moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants. Both were turned down. The results were: Moratorium Plus: 41.6% Yes, 58.4% No; Electricity without Nuclear: 33.7% Yes, 66.3% No.[13] The program of the "Electricity without Nuclear" petition was to shut down all nuclear power stations by 2033, starting with Unit 1 and 2 of Beznau nuclear power stations, Mühleberg in 2005, Gösgen in 2009, and Leibstadt in 2014. "Moratorium Plus" was for an extension of the moratorium for another 10 years, and additionally a condition to stop the present reactors after 40 years of operation. In order to extend the 40 years by 10 more years another referendum would have to be held. The rejection of the Moratorium Plus had come to surprise to many, as opinion polls before the referendum have showed acceptance. Reasons for the rejections in both cases were seen in the worsened economic situation.[14]

On 10 June 2008, ATEL submitted an application to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy for the construction of a new plant in the Niederamt region (SO).[15] A further two applications were to be presented by Axpo and BKW before the end of 2008.[16]

In May 2011, the Swiss government decided to abandon plans to build new nuclear reactors. The country’s five existing reactors will be allowed to continue operating, but will not be replaced at the end of their life span. The last will go offline in 2034.[17] In October 2016 energy companies formally withdrew their 2008 applications to build three new power plants.[18] In November 2016, a referendum was held concerning a Green Party initiative that would have phased out all nuclear plants after a life-span of 45 years.[19] The 3 oldest nuclear plants (Beznau 1 and 2, and Mühleberg) would have had to be shut down as early as 2017, and every remaining plant by 2029.[19] The initiative was rejected by 54.2% of voters.[20]

On 21 May 2017, 58% of Swiss voters accepted the new Energy Act establishing the energy strategy 2050 and forbidding the construction of new nuclear power plants.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Swiss Federal Office of Energy SFOE - Electricity statistics". 2014-06-23. Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  2. ^ "Statistique suisse de l'électricité 2007" (PDF). Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  3. ^ "7.4 States Formerly Possessing or Pursuing Nuclear Weapons". Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  4. ^ Westberg, Gunnar (2010-10-09). "Swiss nuclear bomb | IPPNW peace and health blog". Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  5. ^ "Energiewende: Nationalrat will Beznau nach 60 Jahren vom Netz nehmen - Schweiz Nachrichten". Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  6. ^ a b "Nuclear Power in Switzerland". World Nuclear Association. January 2015. 
  7. ^ "The most damaging intra-plate earthquake known to have occurred in central Europe", according to (Risk Management Solutions) 1356 Basel Earthquake: 650-year Retrospective, 2006.
  8. ^ a b "Centrale Nucléaire de Fessenheim : appréciation du risque sismique" (PDF). RÉSONANCE Ingénieurs-Conseils SA. 5 September 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-03-30. 
  9. ^ "BBC News - Swiss search for strategy on nuclear". 2011-03-22. Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  10. ^ Swiss Federal Council. "Energy Policy: The Federal Council orders a revision of decision processes after Fukushima (in French)". Swiss Federal Council. Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2011. 
  11. ^ "Yahoo Actualités - Toute l'actualité en France et dans le monde". 2011-04-20. Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  12. ^ "Le Matin, l'actualité en direct: sports, people, politique, économie, multimédia". Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  13. ^ [1][dead link]
  14. ^ [2] Archived 13 December 2004 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ "Alpiq Group: News". Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  16. ^ Dienstag 17. Februar 2015 – . "BKW und Axpo planen weiter an zwei Ersatz-KKW: Nachrichten". Retrieved 2015-02-17. 
  17. ^ Kanter, James (2011-05-25). "Switzerland Decides on Nuclear Phase-Out". The New York Times. 
  18. ^ "Request to build nuclear power plants withdrawn". 12 October 2016. Retrieved 13 October 2016. 
  19. ^ a b Moulson, Geir (27 November 2016). "Swiss Reject Plan to Speed up Exit from Nuclear Energy". The Washington Post (from the Associated Press). Retrieved 27 November 2016. 
  20. ^ "Vote Results: Nuclear Power Initiative". Swissinfo. 27 November 2016. Retrieved 27 November 2016. 
  21. ^ "Energy strategy 2050". Swiss Federal Office of Energy, Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications. Retrieved 21 May 2017. 

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