Switzerland has one of the cleanest electrical power systems in the world. It produces and consumes about 58 billion kilowatt-hours per year. Its five nuclear reactors (four power stations, one has two reactors) supply about 22 billion kilowatt-hours (38%), nearby French nuclear plants supply about 7-8%, and its extensive network of hydroelectric dams produce nearly all of the rest.
Unfortunately, the last nuclear power plant built in the country started operating in 1984 and a well-funded collation of anti-nuclear activists has waged a repetitive campaign to attempt to force the the country to avoid building any more. Despite many political efforts aiming to limit the future use of the technology, the only referendum that passed was a 1990 initiative that included a 10 year moratorium on new construction. In 1998, the Swiss government passed a law requiring an eventual, gradual phaseout of nuclear power, but took no action to shutdown any plants.
That moratorium is long over, the country continues to use electricity and to need a bit more each year, and the rivers are essentially tapped out in terms of their capacity to produce more power. In addition, the long term contract for power from France expires in 2017, and some of the existing reactors are already 38-40 years old. The famously far-sighted country has been working for several years to develop a plan to supply electrical power requirements during the coming decades. In February, 2007, the government signaled that it would be replacing the existing nuclear plants.
On June 10, 2008, Atel Holdings, Ltd. formally applied to the Swiss government for permission to build an additional plant at its existing site in Niederamt, Solothurn. There must be a very active Wikipedia editor in Switzerland, that fact was already posted on the Nuclear Power in Switzerland page.
The company has not yet decided on a vendor, and the process may take as many as 12-18 years, but the people behind the decision to go forward with an application for a new nuclear plant think that it is important to start now. So do some outside analysts. According to a June 10, 2008 Bloomberg.com article titled Atel Applies for Approval for Swiss Nuclear Generator (Update3) here is a view from inside the country.
Demand for power in the alpine country is forecast to outstrip supply as older reactors are decommissioned and long- term import contracts expire. The Atel project, together with Italy’s May decision to pursue nuclear generation and a U.K. move this year to build new reactors, marks the region’s commitment to pre-empt future power shortages by developing atomic energy.
“It’s not about Atel’s survival, its about Switzerland’s survival,” Andreas Escher, an analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich, said by telephone. “It’s not a matter of debate that we are walking into a supply gap,” according to Escher, who advises holding Atel stock.
The Bloomberg article also stated that there is a good chance that the Swiss voters will have another chance to show that they really do prefer nuclear power to the other available options.