Operating lifetimes of the Swiss nuclear power plants
According to Swiss nuclear energy legislation, a power plant today can remain in operation as long as it fulfils the legal safety requirements. A restriction of the operating lifetime is not foreseen.
The plant operator is responsible for the safety of the facility. The Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) monitors the plants and ensures that the operators observe all the legally prescribed safety requirements. If there are doubts regarding safety, ENSI can, at any time, order a temporary shutdown and the power plant would have to be removed from the grid until any defects have been remedied.
Current practice: a story of success
The safety standards for the Swiss nuclear power plants are amongst the highest in the world. The current practice of ongoing retrofitting has led to a highly developed safety culture which is also reflected in the low susceptibility of the Swiss power plants to accidents and their high level of availability compared to the international situation.
As part of the European stress tests, the Swiss plants were assigned a very high level of safety and ENSI also repeatedly attested to the safety of the plants. ENSI did, however, identify some upgrades that would have the effect of further increasing the safety margins. Irrespective of their age, the Swiss plants should remain first class in terms of safety at all times and continue to make a significant contribution to the electricity needs of Switzerland with clean base load energy.
A proven success formula
Despite the high levels of safety, the operating lifetimes of the power plants have increasingly become a topic of discussion in political circles. Opponents call for an accelerated phase-out of nuclear energy and forced advancement of renewable energy sources, in the belief that this will provide more safety. Other circles react to political pressure in calling for at least a restriction of the operating lifetimes.
However, there is no convincing reason for changing current practice. Deviation from the present strategy would not bring any benefit in terms of safety, but could have the effect of compromising the security of supply. ENSI also considers it unnecessary to restrict the operating lifetimes. As long as the safety requirements are fulfilled to its satisfaction, then shutting down a power plant remains a purely business decision on the part of the NPP owner or operator, that is to say mostly the Cantons.
The Swiss nuclear power plants will thus continue to operate as long as they are safe, but also for as long as operation is financially worthwhile for the operators.