Word from the President

Anniversaries are a time for celebrating, remembering past achievements and for reflecting on the present and the future. Well, I was delighted to have been invited to take part in celebrations to mark the recent 50th anniversary of a stalwart member of ENS – SGK, the Swiss Nuclear Society. To have represented the Swiss nuclear science community with distinction for half a century is a considerable achievement in itself. Since Switzerland has always played a lead role in the development of nuclear energy in Europe, and SGK has been at the forefront of the nuclear science movement in Switzerland since the early pioneering days, it is true to say that the Swiss Nuclear Society has been an indelible part of that history. It has witnessed the good days and the bad days. SGK’s fiftieth birthday got me thinking about the unique place that Switzerland has occupied in the history of nuclear development in Europe and of the Society’s place in that history. There are interesting parallels that can be drawn between what Switzerland and the UK have experienced and between their respective positions today. Allow me to share a few memories and observations with you.

I was especially delighted to be part of the celebrations because throughout my career I have had the pleasure of working with the Swiss nuclear community at various levels and have experienced first hand their dedication and technical expertise. During my time at BNFL I have been privileged to work with NOK, Switzerland’s N° 1 producer of nuclear-generated electricity. At that time I was also Chairman of NIREX in the UK and this gave me the opportunity to work alongside colleagues at NAGRA, the Swiss National Co-operative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste. This has enabled me to get a first-hand personal insight into the Swiss approach to nuclear power and I have never failed to be impressed.

As we reflect upon 50 years of Swiss nuclear history, it strikes me as particularly appropriate that these anniversary celebrations should take place at the Paul Scherrer Institute. In the 1950s, Paul Scherrer and his associate Walter Boveri led the nuclear movement in Switzerland. Walter Boveri, together with Charles Brown, later founded the Brown Boveri Corporation (ABB), which played a key role in the early development of nuclear power in Europe and became an international force in reactor design and the building of nuclear power plants. I remember well when, under BNFL’s ownership, Westinghouse acquired the nuclear interests of ABB.

In 1955, Switzerland hosted the World Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, and Switzerland has been promoting this aim ever since.

In common with virtually all nations, Switzerland has had its difficulties. For 20 years the “Kaiseraugst” controversy became a cause célèbre for anti-nuclear protestors. And, of course, radioactive waste management has been problematic at times. However, I am sure that every nuclear nation would concede that handling radioactive waste can be a problem. NAGRA has accumulated a great deal of technical experience and expertise over the years and has come up with a range of effective technical solutions to the question of handling nuclear waste. The secret is getting increased public acceptance for these solutions translating this into political acceptance of and support for them.

This underlines the importance of effective communications. It’s all about getting the message across. Some countries have learnt the importance of good public communications the hard way, for others it is built into the fabric of the political landscape – which helps. Over the years, the Swiss system of open democratic decision-making has proved to be a strength when overcoming these communications problems. The Swiss Nuclear Society has played a key role in making sure that the right messages reach the right audiences. Although decision can be a long process in the Swiss system, once reached decisions are invariably accepted and implemented. Consequently, the Swiss industry has always been well placed to produce long-term, outstanding results….and it has! Throughout the past 20 years the Swiss fleet of power reactors has run with a load factor of 80% and around 90% over the past 10 years. This is an outstanding achievement by any standards and worthy of our congratulations.

For many years Switzerland has reprocessed its fuel and for 30 years you have been burning MOX fuel in Swiss reactors. The fact that Switzerland was one of the first nations to close the thermal cycle is another example of responsible and thoughtful leadership by the Swiss nuclear industry.

So, after 50 years of successful nuclear power generation and 50 years of SGK representing unstintingly the Swiss nuclear science community, it is time to look to the future – a future that I’m sure SGK will be an active part of. Switzerland and the UK have both recently changed their nuclear policy and embarked upon a programme of nuclear new build. Both countries are seeking to replace and increase existing capacity.

The peaceful use of nuclear energy has a long and distinguished history in Switzerland. There is much to look back on with pride. And strong foundations have been laid for the next phase to be built upon. The future looks bright.

It has been a pleasure for ENS to count SGK among its members and long may the fruitful cooperation between the two continue.

Congratulations to the Swiss Nuclear Society for the past 50 years…and here’s to the next 50!

David Bonser
President of ENS


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