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Switzerland to Phase Out Nuclear Energy; E.U. Strikes Deal on 'Stress Tests'

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the Swiss government announced today that it plans to end its use of nuclear energy in the next 2 or 3 decades. "The government has voted for a phaseout because we want to ensure a secure and autonomous supply of energy," The Wall Street Journal quoted Energy Minister Doris Leuthard as saying today at a press conference in Bern. "Fukushima showed that the risk of nuclear power is too high, which in turn has also increased the costs of this energy form."

The first reactor would reportedly be taken offline in 2019 and the last one in 2034. Parliament will discuss the plan next month, and there could be a referendum as well. Switzerland has five nuclear reactors, which provide around 40% of the country's electricity. Last weekend saw the largest antinuclear protests ever held in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the 27 countries of the European Union today agreed on the basics of a so-called stress test to determine the safety of the union's 143 nuclear reactors.

Countries had long squabbled over the criteria for the tests, which are now set to begin 1 June. In particular, the United Kingdom and France resisted including 9/11-like terrorist scenarios in the assessments, such as an airplane flying into a power plant. They feared few if any reactors would survive such a test.

The stress tests will include those humanmade disasters, but they will be dealt with separately and after further discussions with the E.U. member states, according to a statement issued by the European Commission today. The security part of the reviews may also be kept confidential so as not to give potential terrorists ideas. "Human error has played a role in the Fukushima accident, so therefore we felt human error and human action had to be part of the stress test," E.U. Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said today.

The tests will have three parts: a "pre-assessment," in which plant operators fill out a questionnaire and provide additional documentation; a review by national regulatory agencies to verify that their answers are credible; and a peer review, carried out by a multinational, seven-member team, of the national reports.