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The city streets of Danikem, Switzerland, with the Gosgen nuclear power plant seen in the distance, in May 2014.

Switzerland voted for a pivotal new energy plan that includes phasing out nuclear power in favor of renewables.

The referendum held Sunday passed by an approximate 58-42 margin, according to the country’s public television outlet. A majority of cantons, the divisions of local government, was also reached.

The country would ban construction of new nuclear plants, eventually decommission the five current plants, and also push for renewable energy sources like hydroelectric and wind. It would also mandate more efficient vehicles and devices.

The national parliament resolved not to replace any reactors in 2011, which would have phased out nuclear power by 2034, according to the World Nuclear Association. However, the direct democratic vote is the first formal public support for the direction away from nuclear sources, according to accounts. (A prior referendum in 1990 had imposed a 10-year moratorium on new nuclear construction, but a 2003 vote had rejected two anti-nuclear proposals).

In 2015, nuclear sources supplied 34 percent of the total Swiss production, with 59 percent coming from hydroelectric.

Opponents of the referendum have contended that more renewables meant higher prices.

The Swiss vote is the latest setback for nuclear power, once seen as the future, but which has slowed with a series of international crises that began nearly 40 years ago with the meltdown at Three Mile Island.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission concedes that the panic and anxiety of Three Mile Island “permanently changed both the nuclear industry and the NRC.” But that total meltdown was narrowly averted, with no fatalities reported – unlike the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in the Ukraine, and the Fukushima incident in Japan in 2011.

“Public fear and distrust increased, NRC’s regulations and oversight became broader and more robust, and management of the plants was scrutinized more carefully,” the agency has said.

Nuclear’s growth tailed off considerably in the U.S. after 1979. It did reach a peak generation of 23 percent of all U.S. electricity in December 1999 – but that total fell to 18 percent by summer 2015. In the same time frame, natural gas rose from 11 percent to 35 percent of the share of the county’s generation.

Some experts hold that economics, and not disasters, are what have curtailed the use of nuclear in the U.S.

Ninety-nine nuclear plants are currently in use in the U.S. today, the NRC says. The most recent performance analysis of the plants found only 85 met all safety and security objectives, the NRC found.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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