In Yoshida's Dilemma, there is a section that discusses the future of nuclear power, noting that some countries, including the US, significantly bolstered defenses of their nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. Japan shut down all of its 54 nuclear reactors, and six years on all but four remain off-line, but at the time, only Germany announced categorically that it would be phasing out its nuclear energy policy.
The Swiss, meanwhile, had debated the idea of following suit, though eventually rejected it. However, according to news reports today it seems the Swiss people have decided they no longer wish to be dependent on nuclear power and have voted in favor of a government plan to cease construction of any new reactors in a first step toward phasing out nuclear power completely.
Swiss energy minister Doris Leuthard said that the decision would lead Switzerland "into a modern energy future" and shows the public wants "a new energy policy" that would give a boost to domestic renewable energy projects.
Nuclear power has been a crucial part of Switzerland's energy mix and a poll undertaken in the Fall 2013 showed that 64 percent of respondents believed the country's five existing nuclear reactors were crucial in meeting its electricity demand. This actually represented a 3 percent increase over a similar poll conducted in 2012, one year after the Fukushima accident.
What's more, even more respondents (68%) stated they believed Switzerland should continue its nuclear power policy, providing the reactors could be guaranteed to be safe. Even at this point the government had decided to phase out the five existing reactors, meaning they would all be taken off line by 2035 in order to be decommissioned. Yet no clear decision had been made on replacements, or so-called "new builds."
A 2014 editorial in the World Nuclear News reported that: "The results of the (2013) poll suggest that Switzerland's phase out policy is not fully supported by the Swiss people." The announcement today, almost four years later, would seem to indicate that in the intervening years, when news out of Japan has been dominated by leaking tanks storing contaminated water, an inability to locate the melted fuel and other problems at the stricken No.1 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, little has happened to convince the Swiss public that they are right and that the government's phase out policy is flawed. What's more, the bold announcement that the European nation will strive to develop its own renewable projects would seem to have assuaged fears among the 73% of respondents in 2013 poll that without nuclear power the nation would be forced to become increasingly dependent on foreign countries.
As nuclear engineer quoted in Yoshida's Dilemma astutely notes: "Safety and peace of mind are two different things." As the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident seems to confirm, instilling peace of mind among the public depends on how well you can demonstrate absolute safety -- which in turn depends on how well you look.