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NUCLEAR POWER

‘Truly historic’: Switzerland shuts down a nuclear power station for first time

One of four Swiss nuclear power stations was permanently disconnected on Friday after 47 years of service, marking a first in Switzerland, as the country begins to gradually phase out atomic energy.

'Truly historic': Switzerland shuts down a nuclear power station for first time
AFP

The decision to press the “off” button for good at the ageing Muhleberg plant in western Switzerland came amid soaring upkeep costs, and leaves the wealthy Alpine nation with three remaining nuclear plants in service.

“This is the first ever decommissioning of a power reactor in Switzerland,” Swiss energy company BKW, the plant operator, said in a statement.

Since it was commissioned in November 1972, the plant had pumped out some 130 billion kilowatts per hour of electricity, which is enough to cover the current electrical consumption of the Swiss capital Bern's some one million inhabitants for more than a century, BKW said.

The shutdown of the plant officially began at 12:30 pm (1130 GMT), with the decisive button-push transmitted live on Swiss television.

But the full decommissioning process is expected to take around 15 years, with reuse of the site likely possible from 2034.

'Truly historic'

“This is truly a historic day,” Swiss Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told public broadcaster RTS earlier this week.

“The halt of the Muhleberg nuclear plant provides opportunities (for growth) of hydraulic energy and solar power,” she said.

The plant had become the site of repeated protests amid a raging debate about nuclear safety in Switzerland that intensified following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

In the aftermath of Fukushima, Switzerland announced plans to phase out nuclear energy and close its four plants, but no clear timeline has been set.

In early 2013, Muhlberg's operating license was even extended indefinitely, but just months later, its operator announced its plans to shut it down.

But the decision to close the plant, which has covered around five percent of Switzerland's energy consumption, was not politically motivated, BKW said.

“This was a business decision,” the company told AFP in an email.

“If we had wanted to keep running our plant in the long term, we would have needed to invest heavily to respond to the technical requirements stipulated by the Swiss Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI),” it said.

But the closure does mark a clear first step in Switzerland's planned nuclear phase-out, leaving three plants in operation: Gosgen, Leibstadt and Beznau.

The latter houses two reactors, including one that turned 50 earlier this month, making it Europe's oldest functioning reactor and the third oldest in operation worldwide.

But despite their advanced age and Switzerland's stated ambition to gradually exit nuclear — which accounts for about a third of its current power generation — there are no immediate plans to shut down the remaining  reactors.

In a popular vote three years ago, the Swiss rejected a call to speed up the phaseout of the plants by decommissioning all reactors over the age of 45.

As a result, the reactors can run for as long as ENSI deems them safe, or for as long as their operators find it financially viable to invest in the required safety upgrades.

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IRAN

Swiss business team seeks Iran trade deals

A Swiss business delegation travelled to Iran over the weekend for the first such visit in ten years in a bid to expand trade ties, the federal department of finance says.

Swiss business team seeks Iran trade deals
World leaders met in Lausanne this month to map out Iran nuclear deal. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The team, comprising executives from the pharmaceutical, green energy and services sectors, was led by Livia Leu, who served as Swiss ambassador to Tehran between 2009 and 2013, the department said.
   
The four-day visit starting Sunday comes after Iran and six world powers agreed on the outlines of a potentially historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear drive after marathon talks in Switzerland early this month.
   
Leu, the head of bilateral ties at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), had said after the deal that this was a "very propitious" time to visit the Islamic republic.
   
Switzerland eased economic sanctions against Iran at the start of last year.
   
Trade between the two countries amounted to 640 million francs ($670 million) last year with the balance heavily tipped in favour of Switzerland.

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