* Early polling shows atom exit heading for defeat
* Government, industry opposed measure
* Greens fear for safety of aging Swiss nuclear fleet
By John Miller
ZURICH, Nov 27 Swiss voters were likely on
Sunday to reject a speedy exit from the nation's five nuclear
power plants, as concerns over losing energy independence
outweighed the safety worries raised by the measure's
In preliminary early afternoon results, 55 percent of voters
had rejected the initiative, with 45 percent favouring it in a
vote that was part of the Swiss system of direct democracy
giving citizens a final say on important issues.
Swiss reactors Muehleberg and Beznau I and II would be
shuttered next year, followed by Goesgen in 2024 and Leibstadt
in 2029, were the initiative to pass.
The Swiss government and industry have fought the
initiative, saying it could lead to blackouts, higher costs and
the loss of energy independence because the country would become
more dependent on coal-fired power from neighbouring
"We're very happy Swiss voters are giving such an explicit
result," said Heinz Karrer, a former head of the utility
Axpo and current president of the pro-business group
Economiesuisse, in an interview on state-run television SRF.
"Switzerland's people don't want a radical solution," he
said. "It would have caused uncertainties about our energy
supply, something Swiss people were unwilling to risk."
Germany plans to shutter its remaining nuclear plants by
2022, a response to the 2011 disaster in Japan that also
prompted the Swiss initiative.
Switzerland has a 2050 energy strategy in which it would
gradually replace nuclear power that now supplies about a third
of the country's electricity with renewables, including wind and
solar. The strategy calls for eventual closure of the Swiss
reactors, but without a deadline.
That plan is under threat, however, with the Swiss People's
Party, the largest in parliament, aiming to challenge it with a
separate referendum on the grounds it is too expensive.
Swiss utility BKW AG already plans to shutter
Muehleberg in 2019, citing the high costs of maintenance and
Swiss Green Party advocates for a quicker atomic power exit
cited worries about an aging atomic capability, with Beznau I
the oldest operating nuclear power station in the world, having
been started in 1969.
That reactor and Leibstadt, the largest Swiss atomic power
station, have been offline for months following maintenance
issues, including the discovery of discolouration in eight
cladding tubes used to encase Leibstadt's fuel rods.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Andrew Bolton)