Swiss vote 'no' on nuclear plant closure

A citizen-led initiative that proposed immediate shutdown of the Mühleberg nuclear power plant in the Swiss canton of Bern has been defeated, with two thirds of voters opting for keeping the plant open until its planned shutdown in 2019.

The citizens’ group Mühleberg Off the Grid had claimed that the 372 MWe boiling water reactor was unsafe to operate for another five years, while a counter-group claimed the initiative was “useless, expensive and out of touch” given the imminence of the planned shutdown.  

Plant operator BKW FMB Energy said, "The results of the referendum show that voters in the canton of Bern trust BKW and support the decision in favour of an orderly shutdown for the Mühleberg nuclear power plant in 2019. BKW will continue with the preparations to shut down the plant according to plan."

The Swiss Nuclear Forum trade body said, "The clear vote shows that the population does not want a hasty and premature nuclear phase-out for political reasons. The Bernese have sent a clear message to the federal parliament: the operating companies, under the supervision of the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI), know how best to ensure the safe operation of Swiss nuclear power plants."

The Mühleberg plant is the world’s second-oldest nuclear power facility, having come online in 1972. Opponents have been calling for its shutdown for a number of years due to alleged safety issues such as cracks in the core casing, flood risk, and issues with emergency cooling and earthquake resistance.

In 2013 BKW announced that the plant would shut down in 2019 rather than 2022 as originally planned, citing "uncertainty surrounding political and regulatory trends”. The company says it will invest around CHF15m ($17m) in retrofitting measures, including improvements to the cooling water supply and the used fuel storage cooling systems, in the plant’s remaining lifespan. 

Switzerland's government plans to phase out nuclear power by 2035 by not replacing its five reactors when their working lives come to an end. 

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