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Is time up for nuclear?

Experts have helped understand the implications of backing or rejecting a proposal to bring forward the date for switching nuclear power off in Switzerland during a Geneva Environment Network (GEN) event.

Last month, Swiss voters went to the polls to vote on a popular initiative tabled by the country’s Greens party would have closed all power plants that are 45 years old and above. Among other changes, the move would have shut down three of the five plants in operation almost immediately and banned the construction of new ones.

Ahead of the referendum, GEN gathered experts from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) on 22 November to provide in-depth technical background on what’s at stake in the vote and set it in an international context.

During the discussion, the potential risks stemming from old nuclear plants, alternatives to the technology, incentives for switching to renewables, the effect on C02 emissions as well as the cost of nuclear and the ways waste is explored was explained in detail.

Switzerland has less solar and wind energy than most of Europe, yet is highly interconnected, offering an opportunity to shift to renewables, noted Richard Bridle - Project Researcher at the IISD’s Global Subsidies Initiative.

A question mark exists however over whether Switzerland wishes to pay for the early closure of nuclear, noted Scott Foster, Director of UNECE’s Sustainable Energy Division. Looking to the future, energy needs to be traded more freely in any case, while energy efficiency can be greatly improved - including by setting a price on carbon above 100 euros per ton, he underlined.

Meanwhile, the risk of a nuclear accident is very small, but the consequences of one would be enormous, noted Peter Wooders, the IISD’s Group Director on Energy. Therefore, “the potential risk from old power plants remains a question of trust in the safety authorities,” he believes. The question in the referendum is whether Switzerland needs a quick-start to shift to renewables, summarised Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder, Head of Economic Law and Policy at the IISD, moderating the discussion.

In the vote held the following weekend, nearly 55% of Swiss rejected the proposal compared to 45% in favour, meaning the government’s original phase-out plan remains in place. The plan foresees all five nuclear plants in Switzerland being decommissioned at the end of their natural lives – around the year 2050.

To read a full report on the GEN discussion please click here. For more information on the event please contact










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