After over 20,000 protesters marched earlier this week in opposition of nuclear power, the Swiss government has decided to ditch plans to build any new nuclear reactors. The decision comes after Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard suspended the approval of three new rectors, pending more in-depth safety reviews in light of the nuclear tragedy at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

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Switzerland currently has five functioning nuclear reactors that provide some 40 percent of the nation’s energy — they will remain open until 2034, when the life span of the last reactor expires. The decision to move away from nuclear energy isn’t just about the safety concerns — it’s also about moving forward with more sustainable energy options. It is expected that nuclear energy will lose its competitive edge as renewable technologies such as solar and wind become more mainstream and efficiencies improve, and this decision will allow Switzerland to act more aggressively to improve and expand its renewable energy programs.

While it’s wonderful that Switzerland is making the move towards a sustainable future, its neighbor, France, has no plans to downgrade its heavy dependency on nuclear energy. About 80 percent of France’s energy is generated from nuclear power plants, and as we’ve seen in Japan nuclear radiation clearly knows no borders — which puts Switzerland and other surrounding nations as somewhat of a risk. The EU, however, is planning safety tests for the 143 operating nuclear facilities within the Union to ensure that what happened in Japan won’t happen in Europe. The tests will involve both natural and man-made disasters, but Greenpeace doesn’t think the tests are up to par — despite the fact that Britain, France and the Czech Republic wanted them to be less thorough.

Nonetheless, Switzerland’s decision to move away from the potentially dangerous energy source is backed by Germany’s decision to speed-up its own nuclear phase-out plans, and the European Commission intends to make the findings of the tests public — which hopefully will encourage other nations to also join the nuclear phase-out movement.

Via New York Times

Lead photo © Brian Kong