Mühleberg nuclear plant may have to close in 2013

8 March 2012

The Mühleberg nuclear power plant in Switzerland will have to close by mid 2013, unless it develops a comprehensive maintenance plan and applies for a new operating licence, Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court has ruled. Operator of the plant, BKW will appeal against the decision.

Muhleberg is a 372 MW boiling water reactor, which started commercial operation in November 1972. The plant’s operating license was originally to limited until 31 December 2012. However, in December 2009, the Swiss Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) abolished the time limit on the operating licence for Mühleberg plant.

The Swiss Federal Administrative Court overturned this decision in March 2012, setting the time limit for the operation of Mühleberg until 28 June 2013. The decision came after local residents complained about the unlimited lifetime.

“The state of the core shroud, the incomplete assessment of the plant's resistance to earthquakes and the lack of cooling possibilities independent of the River Aare do not allow for the operation of Mühleberg beyond mid-2013," the Court said in its ruling.

In a subsequent statement, BKW said it has outlined a package of measures to stabilize the core mantle and that they are being reviewed by the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI); that proof of Mühleberg’s ability to withstand a combination of a once-in-10,000-year earthquake and the resultant dam failure will be in place at the end of March 2012; and that a number of options are being considered to provide cooling independent of the river Aare to the SUSAN emergency building, including the possibility of building a subterranean line from the River Saane.

The Court also decreed the if Mühleberg is to operate beyond mid-2013, a comprehensive maintenance plan for the long-term operation of the plant must be submitted to DETEC, along with a new application to extent the reactor’s operating licence.

BKW says it has already started drawing up an overarching upgrade and maintenance concept with a view to the Muhleberg’s further operation. It submitted the first project variant to the Swiss regulator ENSI in August 2011. This summer, the concept will be provisionally submitted to DETEC.

The premature shutdown of the Mühleberg plant would entail ‘significant financial and technical implications,’ according to BKW. It said that closure in 2013 is likely to increase the provisions for post-operation, decommissioning and disposal by around CHF 200 million ($215 million).

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