The anti-nuclear protest movement in Switzerland

Anti-nuclear movement achieved mixed success: moratorium of new plant construction and promise of an early phase out, while protests continue for an early end to nuclear power.


Switzerland adopted nuclear power in 1969 with the construction of the Beznau 1 nuclear power reactor. The country has a total of five operational nuclear power reactors contained in four power plants (construction date and capacity in megawatts): Beznau 1 (1969; 365 MW) and 2 (1972; 365 MW), Mühleberg (1972; 355 MW), Gösgen (1979; 970 MW), and Leibstadt (1984; 1165 MW). A sixth prototype reactor (Lucens, 1968; 6 MW) was decommissioned after a year of operation due to a partial core meltdown. In total, nuclear energy supplies 24.8 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, accounting for 36.4% of Switzerland's production capacity.

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Basic Data
NameThe anti-nuclear protest movement in Switzerland
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Nuclear waste storage
Nuclear power plants
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsFor all plants, the following info:

Latitude Longitude Name Status Reactor type Net Capacity (MW)

47.552222 8.227778 Beznau 1 & 2 Operational Pressurized water reactor 730

47.365833 7.968889 Gösgen Operational Pressurized water reactor 970

46.692824 6.826892 Lucens Shut-down (accident) Heavy water reactor 6

47.60135 8.18375 Leibstadt Operational Boiling water reactor 1165

46.970833 7.270278 Muehleberg Operational Boiling water reactor 373

47.217777 7.721112 Graben Cancelled Boiling water reactor 1140

47.122274 8.347585 Inwil Cancelled Boiling water reactor 900

47.54 7.748889 Kaiseraugst Cancelled Boiling water reactor 1000

47.29271 9.538001 Ruethi Cancelled Pressurized water reactor 900

46.193813 6.028671 Verbois Cancelled High temperature reactor 1100
Level of Investment (in USD)Not possible to estimate, but combined capital of plant operators is ca. USD 10.75 billion (turnover of 10 billion))
Type of PopulationUnknown
Potential Affected PopulationProtests up to 30000 people, ca 45% of population opposes nuclear power (ca 3.5 million people)
Start Date01/01/1969
Company Names or State EnterprisesBernische Kraftwerke AG (BKW) from Switzerland - Owner of the Muehleberg Reactor
Axop Group (axpo) from Switzerland - Owner of the Beznau 1 & 2 reactors
Kernkraftwerk Gösgen-Däniken AG (KKG) from Switzerland - Owner of the Goesingen Reactor
Kernkraftwerk Leibstadt AG (KKL) from Switzerland - Owner of the Leibstadt Reactor
Relevant government actorsSwiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) (

Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) (

Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) (
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGreenpeace Switzerland (

World Widlife Fund Switzerland (

The Tri-national Anti-nuclear Association (
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Air pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Other Environmental impacts
OtherRadiation from nuclear power stations
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseUnder negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Development of AlternativesSeveral organizations and think tanks have investigated energy supply scenarios for Switzerland without nuclear (or fossil) energy. These include campaigners against nuclear power (Greenpeace, WWF) and research institutions (e.g. the Paul Scherrer Institute, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). These are summarized by M. Densing et al. (2015) "Review of Swiss Electricity Scenarios 2050", Paul Scherrer Institute (
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The movement has had it's high points and low points. While one can clearly count successes (the nuclear phase out, halting 50% of planned plants), these have often been catalyzed by external, independent events. At the same time, the public consistently vote in referenda to maintain the status quo, and goverment pledges for an early phase out of nuclear energy (i.e. shutting down plants early) have recently been watered down in favour of running the plants to the end of their lifetime.
Sources and Materials

SR 732.1 Nuclear Energy Act (NEA) regulates the peaceful use of nuclear energy via the transport of nuclear goods, running of operations and disposal of waste
[click to view]

814.50 Radiological Protection Act of 22 March 1991 (RPA) specifically regulates the management of radioactive waste and exposure of humans and nature to ionizing radiation
[click to view]


Steck, R. and Kieffer, D. Umweltbewegung und Anti-AKW-Bewegung in der Schweiz. University of Bern, seminar series Macht und Mythen der 68er Bewegung
[click to view]

David Smythe (2011). “An objective nuclear accident magnitude scale for quantification of severe and catastrophic events”. Physics Today, December 2011
[click to view]


Wikipedia – Summary of nuclear power in Switzerland (history, status, politics)
[click to view]

Tri-national Anti-nuclear Association (Germany, France, Switzerland)
[click to view]

Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) monitors nuclear reactor safety in Switzerland
[click to view]

Swiss Energy Foundation conduct analysis of Swiss Energy Scenarios and Policies
[click to view]

Greenpeace Switzerland contains updated news of the Anti-nuclear movement
[click to view]

International service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), 3 March 2012: “Switzerland, a nuclear old people’s home”
[click to view]

Mitwelt Anti-Atomkraftgruppen Schweiz
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Menschenstrom Gegen Atomkraft campaign against nuclear power nationally
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Neu Zürcher Zeitung, 22 May 2011 - history of the swiss anti-nuclear movement
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Media Links

Greenpeace briefing about the energy revolution to phase out nuclear in Switzerland
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Photo collection presented by Greenpeace of the ongoing protests at the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectoriate (ENSI)
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Other Documents

Photo: Fukushima protests 1 Protest following the Fukushima disaster in 2011
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Photo: Fukushima protests 2 Protest following Fukushima disaster (#2)
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Muelberg protest 2 Protest camp at the headquarters of BKW AG, the owners of the ageing Muelberg power plant, urging the company to shut down the plant (#2)
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Muelberg protest 3 Police dragging away a protester at a sit-in protest near the Muelberg plant to block access to the plant
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Muelberg protest 1 Protest camp at the headquarters of BKW AG, the owners of the ageing Muelberg power plant, urging the company to shut down the plant
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorDr. Michael P. Curran, ETH Zürich, Switzerland ([email protected])
Last update15/03/2016