Swiss Vote To Keep Nuclear Plants Operational

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Switzerland isn't abandoning nuclear energy just yet.

While the country's government says it's committed to phasing out nuclear power in favor of green energy in the long term, Swiss voters rejected a plan to begin shutting down nuclear plants immediately.

Switzerland has five nuclear plants and, if passed, the Green Party's referendum would have forced the government to shut down three of them in 2017, according to The Associated Press. The other two plants would remain operational as the country transitioned to alternative energy sources, with the last plant closing no later than 2029.

But 54 percent of voters opposed the plan, and only six of Switzerland's 26 states -- called cantons -- voted in favor of it.

Despite losing the referendum, Green Party leader Regula Rytz said it proves the Swiss are wary of dependence on nuclear energy.

"The high number of yes votes confirmed that citizens wanted to opt out of nuclear power in the long run," Rytz said, reports the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.

The Fukushima nuclear accident of 2011 prompted Swiss authorities to re-examine their dependence on nuclear power. For several years, Swiss leaders debated the pros and cons of moving away from nuclear power, and in 2015 lawmakers in the country agreed on a strategy to phase out nuclear power while the country builds new energy infrastructure utilizing cleaner sources like hydroelectric power, the SBC reported.

But the plan did not set a hard deadline for shutting down nuclear plants, instead stipulating that the reactors would remain in operation as long as they were deemed safe.

Opponents of the referendum warned that abandoning nuclear power would increase Swiss dependence on foreign energy sources while increasing the possibility of blackouts. Meanwhile, the Green Party and others who supported the proposal pointed to the devastation at Fukushima, where reactors withstood a powerful earthquake but failed due to the impact of a subsequent tsunami.

Any move away from nuclear would have to be offset by major progress in developing other power sources, with 40 percent of Switzerland's current power coming from its five nuclear plants, according to the BBC.

Doris Leuthard, the Swiss energy minister, told the SBC the vote means citizens understand transitioning away from nuclear energy is a process that takes time.

"Voters do not want a hasty shut down of nuclear power plants," Leuthard said. "A policy change is not feasible from one day to the next."

Sources: The Associated Press, Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (2), BBC / Photo credit: Nawi112/Wikimedia Commons

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