Federal Council decides to gradually phase out nuclear energy as part of its new energy strategy

Berne, 25.05.2011 - The Federal Council intends to continue to safeguard Switzerland's high level of energy security although without nuclear energy in the medium term. That was the decision taken at its special meeting today. Existing nuclear power plants should be decommissioned at the end of their operational lifespan and not be replaced by new nuclear power plants. In order to ensure the security of supply, the Federal Council, as part of its new Energy Strategy 2050, is placing emphasis on increased energy savings (energy efficiency), the expansion of hydropower and new renewable energies, and, if necessary, on fossil fuel-based electricity production (cogeneration facilities, gas-fired combined-cycle power plants) and imports. Furthermore, Switzerland’s power grid should be expanded without delay and energy research strengthened.

As a result of the devastating earthquake in Japan and the disaster at Fukushima, the Federal Council on 23 March 2011 commissioned DETEC to revise its energy outlook by the end of May on the basis of the following three electricity supply options:

  • Electricity supply option 1: Continuation of current mix of electricity production with possible early replacement of the three oldest nuclear power plants with a view to ensuring the highest possible level of safety.
  • Electricity supply option 2: No replacement of existing nuclear power plants at the end of their safe operational lifespan.
  • Electricity supply option 3: Early withdrawal from nuclear energy programme, existing nuclear power plants are decommissioned before the end of their safe operational lifespan.

At its special meeting today, the Federal Council discussed the results of the analyses and took a decision of principle.

Gradual phase out of nuclear energy

The Federal Council wishes to guarantee the secure supply of electricity that Switzerland has enjoyed to date, characterised by high quality, reliability, largely CO2-free production and competitive prices. In view of the earthquake and the tsunami that devastated Fukushima, it feels that the people of Switzerland would like to see a reduction in the residual risk associated with the use of nuclear energy. In addition, due to the expected increasing costs of generating nuclear energy (new safety standards, upgrades, revised liability risks, greater financing difficulties due to higher risk premiums for investors), its competitive advantage with respect to renewable sources of energy is likely to diminish in the longer term.

The Federal Council is therefore of the opinion that the existing nuclear power plants should be decommissioned at the end of their safe operational lifespan and not be replaced by new nuclear power plants. In future, the supply of electricity should therefore follow electricity supply option 2. The Federal Council expects the safe operational lifespan of the existing nuclear power plants to be about 50 years. On that basis Beznau I should be taken offline in 2019, Beznau II and Mühleberg in 2022, Gösgen in 2029 and Leibstadt in Jahr 2034.

The Federal Council sees no reason to seek early decommissioning. Tests conducted by the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate ENSI) have shown that the safe operation of Switzerland's nuclear power plants is currently assured. ENSI would take the necessary measures were anything to change. Safety is the overriding priority at all times.

Need to reshape the energy system

The gradual phasing out of nuclear energy affords Switzerland the necessary time to implement the new energy policy and reshape the energy system. At present, hydropower accounts for around 56% of Switzerland's electricity production, nuclear power 39% and conventional thermal and other facilities around 5%. The current energy outlook shows that the gradual phasing out of nuclear energy is technically feasible and economically viable. Due to the growing need to replace Europe's ageing power plants, electricity prices are set to rise throughout Europe. That will cushion the impact of an orderly exit from nuclear energy on the international competitiveness of the Swiss economy. Initial estimates put the cost of restructuring our pool of power plants and the construction of new power production facilities, and for measures to reduce the demand for energy, at between 0.4 and 0.7 per cent of GDP.

The reshaping of the energy system will be supported by targeted research at the national and international level, technology transfer between universities and industry and the establishment of new, innovative businesses. At the same time, that will significantly strengthen the position of cleantech firms with the associated labour market benefits. Efficient processes, technologies and products can become major assets in the creation of added value in Switzerland. Investments in efficiency improvements and renewable energies will benefit SMEs throughout the country - particularly in peripheral regions where vast potential in wind and solar energy and biomass remains untapped.

Energy Strategy 2050

In order to cover the shortfall in the electricity supply caused by the decision not to replace the nuclear power plants, Switzerland's energy strategy has to be revised.
The Federal Council has therefore set the following priorities:

  1. Reduction in energy consumption: The new energy outlook shows that the demand for energy could rise to around 90 billion kilowatt hours a year by 2050 if tighter measures are not taken (2010: around 60bn kWh). The main reasons for this are population growth, increasing duplication of household appliances (e.g. second TV), new appliances and applications, greater living space per person, but also the increasing electrification of transport. The Federal Council therefore intends to encourage the economical use of energy in general, and of electricity in particular. Enhanced efficiency measures include minimum requirements for appliances (best practice, energy label) and other regulations, bonus-malus mechanisms (efficiency bonus), measures to raise public awareness (strengthening of SwissEnergy) and measures regarding the production of heat.
  2. Broadening of electricity supply: Hydropower and new renewable energies should be bolstered in particular. Their share in the current energy mix needs to be expanded significantly. That is the main aim of cost-covering remuneration for feed-in to the electricity grid. However, in order to meet demand there also needs to be an expansion of fossil fuel-based electricity production with cogeneration {combined heat and power} (firstly) and gas-fired combined-cycle power plants (secondly). The Federal Council is retaining its climate policy objectives.
    The increasing share of irregular power production (wind, solar) requires a restructuring of our pool of power plants to ensure the necessary storage and reserve capacities. Furthermore, the conflict of interests between efforts to protect the climate, waterways and countryside and spatial planning has to be resolved constructively.
  3. Maintaining electricity imports: Imports will continue to be necessary to ensure security of supply and to cover temporary fluctuations. However, the Federal Council is of the opinion that Switzerland should continue to remain as independent as possible in terms of electricity production.
  4. Expansion of electricity transmission grid: The rapid expansion of the electricity transmission grid and the transformation of transmission networks into smart grids is absolutely essential for future domestic production infrastructures and electricity imports. These ‘intelligent' grids allow direct interaction between consumers, the network and power producers and offer great potential with regard to optimising the electricity system,  delivering energy savings and consequently in bringing down costs. Switzerland's power grid should be optimally integrated into the European grid and the future European 'supergrid'.
  5. Strengthening energy research: The restructuring of the energy system needs to be supported by the strengthening of energy research. To that end, the energy research portfolio in the ETH Domain and at the universities of applied sciences should be reviewed and cooperation between universities, business and centres of technological expertise encouraged. A plan of action on 'Coordinated Energy Research Switzerland' with relevant roadmaps should be drawn up for efficiency enhancing technologies, power grids and the storage and distribution of electricity. The necessary federal funding for pilot schemes and demonstration facilities should also be provided. These efforts are to be coordinated with measures contained in the Cleantech Masterplan.
  6. Confederation, cantons, cities and communes set the example: The Confederation, the cantons, cities and communes will lead by example. They should meet their own electricity and heating needs through renewable sources of energy and apply the principle of 'best practice in all fields. The private sector should also play its part in taking measures to reduce commercial energy consumption and strengthen Switzerland's position as a location for business by coming up with innovative, energy-saving products. The energy industry should seize the opportunity to play an active part in reshaping the national energy system and make the necessary investments.
  7. Beacon projects guide the way: Pilot and demonstration projects developed by various industries and groups should provide valuable experience for Switzerland's future in terms of energy. The fields of Smart Buildings, Smart Cities, Smart Grids and district heating networks are key in achieving an optimisation of the energy system, and thus contributing to a reduction in energy consumption, emissions and costs.
  8. Encouraging international cooperation: International cooperation in the field of energy should be further intensified. Efforts should be made to conclude an agreement on electricity with the European Union this year. In addition, contacts with neighbouring countries should be intensified. Furthermore, Switzerland will actively participate in the international debate on the future role and direction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and take part in the relevant political and technical conferences.

Next steps

The Federal Council will now submit the new strategy to parliament for debate. Following the summer session DETEC will continue to develop the strategy in line with the decisions taken by parliament together with the relevant departments and set out the measures to be examined regarding implementation of the decision. In order to finance the necessary additional measures, the Federal Council will study the possibility of introducing an incentive tax or ‘energy cent'. On that basis the Federal Council will be able to issue specific mandates for the preparation of draft legislation in the autumn.

Address for enquiries

Information and Press Service DETEC, 031 322 55 11


The Federal Council

Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications

Swiss Federal Office of Energy