ZURICH, March 14 (Reuters) - The operator of a Swiss nuclear plant is appealing a decision to shut it down ahead of schedule next year, citing planned new safety measures and the high cost of mothballing it.
A Swiss court ruled on March 1 that the Muehleberg nuclear plant, operated by BKW FMB, must go offline in 2013 due to questions about its ability to withstand an earthquake and independent cooling facilities.
"BKW has decided to lodge an appeal against the decision with the Federal Court," it said in a statement on Wednesday. "A premature shutdown ... would entail significant financial and technical implications."
Following Japan's Fukushima disaster last year, nuclear plants have come under increasing public scrutiny in Switzerland, which gets about 40 percent of its power from nuclear sources.
Muehleberg, built in 1972, is one of the plants frequently cited by opponents of nuclear energy as ripe for mothballing.
BKW, which is planning to improve the plant, will submit to authorities proof of its ability to withstand a severe earthquake, and is working on cooling systems to complement the current scheme that is based on water from the river Aare.
Decommissioning Muehleberg would hit BKW's operating income by about 50 million Swiss francs ($54.36 million) per year and decommissioning and disposal funds would have to be augmented by some 450 million francs, BKW said.
After Fukushima shook public confidence in the industry, the Swiss government decided to scrap plans to build new nuclear reactors, but has not said it will shut existing power plants early. ($1 = 0.9199 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Catherine Bosley)