The facility relies upon the Aare river to control temperatures rather than a cooling tower, leading to increases in water temperature between 0.7 and 1 degrees Celsius, according to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. In the interest of preserving freshwater fish populations, production at Beznau is decreasing such that water temperatures do not rise above 25 degrees Celsius — the equivalent of roughly 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beznau produces 6,000-gigawatt hours of electricity per year — twice the consumption of the city of Zurich — and has avoided 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions since its founding, according to Axpo, the company which runs the facility.
An Axpo spokesperson told CNBC that there were “regulations regarding water protection, which restrict the operation of the Beznau nuclear power plant at high water temperatures in the Aare.”
According to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, Switzerland produces 30% of its electricity from its three nuclear plants. However, in reaction to the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, the nation decided to phase out nuclear power by 2034 — a deadline that was recently nixed in light of uncertainty about future energy supply.
The Axpo spokesperson explained that the output of Beznau is toggled during the course of the day to manage river temperatures. “This is a routine procedure that becomes necessary from time to time during the hot days of summer,” the spokesperson said. “Due to the heat, we assume that further power reductions will be necessary over the next few days.”
Like other European countries, Switzerland is experiencing decreased Russian fuel supply as the nation invades neighboring Ukraine. As a result, the cost of gasoline is presently $8.47 per gallon in Switzerland, while the national average gas price in the United States is $4.50 per gallon as of Tuesday, according to AAA.
The slowdown of energy production at Beznau occurs as the Biden administration’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends breaching dams in the Pacific Northwest to ensure the survival of endangered salmon.
A draft report from the agency released last week suggested that four Snake River dams should be breached to cut salmon travel time and reduce stress on juvenile fish and encounters with powerhouses. The “earthen portion of each dam would be removed, and a naturalized river channel would be established around the concrete spillway and powerhouse structures,” according to the report.
The dams, however, provide 3,033 megawatts of capacity to the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2016 fact sheet from the Bonneville Power Administration. The entity added this month that replacing the dams would cost $415 million to $860 million per year until 2045, amounting to a total cost of up to $19.6 billion and increasing electricity costs for households by up to 18% over the same horizon. The replacement is made more expensive over time “due to increasingly stringent clean energy standards and electrification-driven load growth.”
The region faced rolling blackouts — intentionally induced to preserve capacity in the long run — amid an historic heatwave, leading to roughly one dozen deaths. A North American Electric Reliability Corporation reliability assessment warned earlier this year that much of the United States is at a “high risk” or “elevated risk” for rolling blackouts this summer.