Switzerland possesses four nuclear power plants. The first one, called Beznau 1, started operating in 1969, whereas the last plant built to produce nuclear energy, Leibstadt, was built in 1984. In order to guarantee the safety of the population, the Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (German abbreviation: ENSI) conducts yearly inspections (and revisions) on the power plants during the summer, which means that those plants are shut down and disconnected from the grid during the inspections and revisions, taking a few days to a few weeks. This is no problem, as Switzerland produces more electricity with dams and rivers during the summer. Bottlenecks can be prevented with the use of pumped-storage power plants.
As for the security and safety of nuclear power plants, there are several aspects which are important to the operating companies and the state. They guarantee maximum safety for their workers, the public, and the environment. In other words, the power plants are built and upgraded over the years in order to sustain earthquakes, floods, and also sabotage attempts. This also means very costly investments.
Currently, Switzerland’s main reason to produce energy without the use of nuclear power plants is the environmental security. The public is concerned that the repositories for nuclear waste have a limited amount of space. Therefore, several politicians are fighting for banishing nuclear energy and stopping the production of more nuclear waste.
It has the potential to produce energy with other options such as renewable energy (mainly water) as well as coal and gas. But is still going to take some time to achieve this goal, as the aforementioned four power plants still produce a third (source: BFE, Schweizerische Elektrizitätsstatistik, 2014) of the country’s electricity. The public launched several campaigns in the past to get rid of nuclear power plants. However, there is still no official strategy provided by the state that plans an exit of nuclear energy production.
There has been an alarming event in Swiss history involving a nuclear power plant. In 1969, months before Switzerland’s first plant was finished, there was an incident in an experimental nuclear facility. In Lucens, the Centrale Nucléaire Expérimentale started the plant according to the procedures, when one fuel element suffered from a decimated cooling capability due to unexpected corrosions. This lead to a partial core-meltdown, which was followed by the rupture of a pressure tube. Even though the workers did not suffer any injuries, there have been slightly elevated levels of radioactivity. This meant that the facility was not sealed, which was a big safety concern. Another issue was the fact that the cavern containing the reactor was seriously contaminated, which took several years to decontaminate. Since the Lucens reactor was a pilot project intended to last for one year only, there was no economic impact due to the incident. Shortly after, Beznau 1 started to operate, but this time using a US/American-designed reactor. Almost fifty years later, Beznau 1 has to remain shut down for the rest of the year due to very recent concerns with the material quality of the reactor pressure vessel.
by Mario D.