Monday, November 28, 2016

Swiss voters chose to keep nuclear power plants

I generally think that frequent referendums aren't a good way to organize societies – or at least nations such as mine – because I do think that detailed decisions should be made by selected people with special knowledge and skills and the median voter isn't one of them. That's why a competition between "potential experts" – politicians who fight against each other – which is judged by the median voter i.e. the representative democracy sounds like a more sophisticated scheme.

On the other hand, I am repeatedly impressed by the results of the referendums in Switzerland and the political maturity that they display. Almost one thousand years of referendums could have made the Swiss more sensible. One shouldn't denounce the possible explanation that the Swiss are simply better at this business – and what could be harmful to other nations may be beneficial for Switzerland.

The latest referendum was one about the nuclear energy.

The Swiss total electricity production is exactly the same as the Czech one, some 67 TWh per year. Switzerland was given some hills that are somewhat higher than those around Pilsen – to so-called Alps – and that allows over 55% of the electricity to be produced from hydro. The overwhelming majority of the remainder, over 40%, is coming from nuclear sources.

Switzerland is in between France, Germany, Italy, and Austria. France is a paradise of nuclear energy, with some 77% from nukes – the highest percentage in the world. But the remaining three countries have grown insanely anti-nuclear. To mock its son Enrico Fermi, Italy's share of nuclear energy has never surpassed 5% and after the Chernobyl accident, Italy has banned nuclear energy altogether.

Austria could have built the Zwentendort nuclear power plant but the result of a 1978 referendum was 50.5% against nuclear energy. That's what I call bad luck. Austria not only abandoned nuclear energy on its territory. It has become an occasionally obnoxious warrior against nuclear power plants in the neighbor states and I often feel that Czechia is by far their favorite foe.

In 2011, after a Japanese tsunami, Angela Merkel announced the phase-out of Germany's nuclear energy by 2022. People often paint Merkel as an extremist but I do agree with Czech ex-president Klaus that she's no creator of radical ideas but rather a product of the system. She represents the most mundane opinions that the lazy majority of the Germans believe and her opposition to nuclear energy is a mainstream meme in Germany, too. After these decisions, Siemens has left the nuclear business altogether.

The overall problems in Fukushima have been vastly smaller than those in Chernobyl but the reactions were similar. This indicates that the anti-nuclear movement (or hysteria) has strengthened in comparison with the 1980s. If that's true, it makes the Swiss voters' opposition to the "accelerated phase-out" more remarkable.

About 55% of the voters, and 20 cantons out of 26, have voted for the continuation of nuclear energy and against the speedy phase-out proposal.

Congratulations. The "popular vote" isn't too clear but it wasn't a statistical tie, either. The phase-out plan wanted to shut down three plants in 2017, 2024, and 2029.

I do believe that in Czechia, the support for nuclear energy is stronger. A 2015 poll indicated that 22% of Czechs wanted an expansion of the nukes (about 1/3 of the energy mix now), additional 45% (therefore 67% in total) want to preserve the status quo, 22% Czechs want a reduction of the nukes, and 11% don't know. It seems plausible to me that those "22% antinuclear" represent the lowest percentage in all industrial countries and yes, it's one of the things that sometimes make me consider my nation to be "superior from some viewpoints".

A curiosity. Because France is so strongly pro-nuclear, you could expect the French cantons to be "proxies of France" and therefore pro-nuclear. Surprisingly, most of the 6 anti-nuclear cantons in the referendum were Francophone. The nuclear power plants are mostly located in the German-speaking Northwest. See a map of Swiss nukes and the Swiss language map.

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