Swiss lawmakers OK plan to phase out nuclear power

June 8, 2011 - 7:59 AM

BERN, Switzerland (AP) — Swiss lawmakers approved a proposal Wednesday to phase out the use of nuclear power, a move spurred by election-year politics and growing skepticism over the use of atomic energy.

A majority of parliamentarians in Switzerland's lower house voted in favor of a gradual plan to shut down the country's five nuclear reactors by 2034.

The ballot passed the National Council with 101 votes in favor, 54 against and 36 abstentions. It had the support of all parties except the pro-business Liberal Democrats and the nationalist Swiss People's Party.

Switzerland's nuclear plants currently generate almost 40 percent of the country's energy. Hydropower supplies most of the rest.

Opponents had warned that abandoning nuclear power would require a massive increase in conventional and alternative energy generation, raise electricity costs for consumers, endanger Switzerland's efforts to reduce carbon emissions, and make the country more dependent on foreign suppliers of natural gas.

Switzerland's upper house, the Council of States, must also approve the plan, then the government will have to submit a detailed proposal on exiting nuclear power to parliament. The Cabinet is already in favor of decommissioning the country's reactors between 2019 and 2034, after they reach an average lifespan of 50 years.

Efforts to abandon nuclear power in Switzerland were boosted following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which was partially destroyed by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Although Switzerland's reactor are considered safe and the country isn't prone to large natural disasters, opinion polls showed most Swiss favored shutting down the nuclear plants. The issue threatened to dominate the political debate ahead of parliamentary elections on Oct. 23.

Last month, demonstrators held the biggest anti-nuclear protest in Switzerland in 25 years.

"Be constructive. We can do this," Energy Minister Doris Leuthard told lawmakers after the vote Wednesday.

Suggestions for increasing power in Switzerland include buying more natural gas and developing more water, sun and wind energy resources, plus geothermal and other small-scale power generating efforts.

Leuthard noted that many small infrastructure projects in Switzerland are blocked at the local level. The country's unique system of popular democracy makes it easy for voters to stop wind farms and other alternative power plants being built in their own backyard.

On Monday, Switzerland's northern neighbor Germany approved abolishing nuclear power by the end of 2022. The law now goes to both houses of the German parliament, which are expected to vote on the plans within a month.

Germany has 17 nuclear power plants but shut down eight of the oldest ones for good after the Fukushima disaster.