Switzerland to vote on abolishing nuclear energy

GENEVA (AP) — Like other countries after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Switzerland pledged to abandon nuclear power in coming years. But anti-nuclear advocacy groups say the Swiss government’s timetable isn’t fast enough, and have pushed for a referendum this weekend that would hasten the planned exit.

Swiss voters cast ballots on Sunday on an initiative championed by environmentalists and nuclear foes that would, if passed, shutter by 2029 the last of Switzerland’s five nuclear power plants that now generate 40 percent of the country’s electricity.

Polls suggest a tight race on an issue that could put Switzerland on a similar track to one in neighboring Germany. The Germans have been aggressively ramping up transition to renewables like solar energy in time to be done with nuclear energy by 2022, a deadline also set after a tsunami ravaged Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power facility five years ago.

As part of an energy plan that runs through 2050, the Swiss government has already agreed not to replace its existing nuclear plants, which can operate as long as they’re deemed safe. The plants are to be closed progressively as their life spans expire, and the government says it needs time to switch to other sources such as wind, solar and biomass energy.

Switzerland regularly holds referendums as part of its particular form of direct democracy, which allows voters in the country of about 8.2 million to set policy on major issues — at times causing hassles for officials to carry out the public’s will.

The two chambers of the Swiss legislature and the executive Federal Council have variously argued that the initiative, “for an orderly withdrawal from the nuclear energy program,” would force Switzerland to import more electricity, such as from carbon-spewing coal-fired plants in Germany. Plus, early shutdowns could make the government — and thus taxpayers — liable to pay penalties to the nuclear plant operators.

“The initiative will compromise the security of our energy supply,” Federal Councilor Didier Burkhalter said in a government video.

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