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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
Name of conflict:The 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 commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

For all plants, the following info:

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Level of Investment:Not possible to estimate, but combined capital of plant operators is ca. USD 10.75 billion (turnover of 10 billion))
Type of populationUnknown
Affected Population:Protests up to 30000 people, ca 45% of population opposes nuclear power (ca 3.5 million people)
Start of the conflict:01/01/1969
Company names or state enterprises:Bernische 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 actors:Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) (
Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI) (
Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) (
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace Switzerland (
World Widlife Fund Switzerland (
The Tri-national Anti-nuclear Association (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
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
Other Environmental impactsRadiation from nuclear power stations
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Potential: Accidents
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:Several 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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 & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

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]

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]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Menschenstrom Gegen Atomkraft campaign against nuclear power nationally
[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]

Mitwelt Anti-Atomkraftgruppen Schweiz
[click to view]

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

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

Neu Zürcher Zeitung, 22 May 2011 - history of the swiss anti-nuclear movement
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Greenpeace briefing about the energy revolution to phase out nuclear in Switzerland
[click to view]

Photo collection presented by Greenpeace of the ongoing protests at the Swiss Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectoriate (ENSI)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dr. Michael P. Curran, ETH Zürich, Switzerland ([email protected])
Last update15/03/2016
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