Opposition hardens to nuclear waste sites

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Persuading local residents that they should nuclear waste in their backyard is not an easy job. But that’s exactly what officials from the Federal Energy Office are doing. They are touring the country, holding information sessions in the regions identified as possible storage sites. One of the candidates is Wellenberg. That particularly upsets voters in canton Nidwalden since they have twice turned down a proposal to build a nuclear waste repository in Wellenberg. Vincent Landon went to a public meeting in Stans and has this report.

Local protest at planned nuclear waste storage in Switzerland

Peter Steiner is president of the committee opposed to the building of a nuclear waste repository in Wellenberg. His committee has urged residents in canton Nidwalden to boycott the information evening organised by the Federal Energy Office in Stans. Several hundred people have heeded his call and are holding a demonstration outside the hall.

Emotions run high here. In both 1995 and 2002, voters turned down a proposal to build a repository in Wellenberg. The government has learned from its defeat. A new law rules out local referendums against storage sites. A cabinet decision on such an issue can only be challenged in a national vote. Steiner says it beggars belief that the government has changed the rules because it lost the democratic process.

STEINER: “Citizens were assured after the votes that the Wellenberg project would not be taken any further and now they are here again, trying to sell it to us. That is shocking.”

Thanks to a law passed in 2005, Switzerland must store its nuclear waste on its own territory. Last month, the Federal Energy Office presented a shortlist of possible underground storage sites. Six regions in northern and central Switzerland were identified.

In Stans, only about 60 people are inside the hall listening to the speakers. One of the speakers is Hans Wanner from The Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate.

WANNER: “We have started an open, transparent selection procedure. The aim is to find a safe geological repository for low or high grade waste and my main message is this evening is that safety is the highest priority.”

The government is expected to make its final decision in about ten years time. Storage facilities for low and medium grade nuclear waste could be operational by 2030 while facilities for highly-radioactive waste could be online ten years later.

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