What does the decision to go nuclear-free mean for Switzerland?

The decision to phase out nuclear power means decommissioning our nuclear power plants at the end of their operating period without replacing them with new ones. As a result, we will have to make up the resulting shortfall in electricity production in one way or another.

In May 2011, following the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Federal Council announced its intention to abandon nuclear power in Switzerland. Shortly thereafter, in June, this intention was confirmed by the National Council, and in September of the same year it was endorsed by the Council of States. In concrete terms, this historic decision to abandon nuclear power means two things. On the one hand, the five nuclear reactors currently in service will be permanently shut down at the expiry of their current operating licences [→ Q16]. The first final shutdown took place on 20 December 2019, when the Mühleberg (BE) nuclear power plant ceased operation. On the other hand, applications for the construction of three new plants have been definitively shelved. As a result, no new nuclear power plants are expected to be built in Switzerland.

The shutdown of our nuclear power plants will result in a significant deficit in our domestic electricity production. Over the period 2011-2018, nuclear power plants produced between 19 TWh and 26 TWh of electricity, which corresponds to about 31-40% of our domestic production and 33-45% of our consumption. This in a context where Switzerland, since 2005, has already become dependent on electricity imports in some years, with an import balance reaching 6 TWh [→ Q11].

It would not be realistic to imagine rationalising our consumption to the point where we could simply do without these 19-26 TWh without any impact on our quality of life. On the contrary, according to the various forecasts based on the current energy system, our energy consumption should at best remain stable, and at worst increase by 30% by 2050 [→ Q87]. This trend obviously makes the challenge of nuclear phase-out even more critical.

So we will have to compensate for the lack of electricity supply by one, or a combination, of the following four options:

  • Doing “more with less” according to the principle of energy efficiency, i.e. offering the same services with less energy (especially less electricity) [→ Q44]
  • increasing our indigenous electricity production, through technologies other than nuclear, in particular renewable energy
  • modifying our habits, in order to stabilise or even reduce our electricity consumption according to the principle of energy moderation [→ Q99]
  • increasing our electricity imports, if this option remains possible in the future


lematin.ch (2019)
(). L’arrêt de Mühleberg est sur la bonne voie. Le Matin. Retrieved from www.lematin.ch/suisse/arret-muehleberg-bonne/story/25440857
Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2018)
(). Statistique suisse de l’électricité 2018. OFEN.
Office fédéral de l'énergie (OFEN) (2013)
(). Perspectives énergétiques 2050.