BERN: Switzerland’s Muehleberg nuclear power station went off the grid yesterday after 47 years, marking the end of an era as the shutdown starts the country’s exit from atomic power.
The 373-megawatt-capacity plant which opened in 1972 has generated enough electricity to cover the energy consumption of the nearby city of Bern for more than 100 years. In scenes shown live on Swiss TV, a technician pressed two buttons in the control room to stop the chain reaction and deactivate the reactor, shutting down the plant for good.
The closure is the first of Switzerland’s five nuclear reactors to be shuttered following the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, which triggered safety concerns about nuclear power around the world. Neighbouring Germany is due to abandon nuclear power stations by 2022, while Switzerland’s government has said it would build no new nuclear reactors and decommission its existing plants at their end of their lifespan.
The Swiss decision to quit nuclear power was upheld in a 2017 referendum which also supported government plans to push forward sustainable energy with subsidies to develop solar, wind and hydroelectric power. No dates have been set for the shutdown of Switzerland’s other nuclear power stations, although the Beznau plant near the German border, which dates back to 1969, is expected to be next.
As recently as 2017, Switzerland’s nuclear power stations generated a third of the country’s power, compared with around 60 per cent from hydroelectric and 5pc from renewables.
Muehleberg’s operator, the state-controlled energy company BKW, decided in October 2013 to shutter the plant, saying plans to invest in its long-term future were no longer viable.
Output has been winding down in the last few weeks as the final fuel loaded in the summer of 2018 was depleted.
After the shutdown, a 15-year decommissioning process will get underway, costing $3.06 billion.