Written by Richard Owen
The new centre Right government of Silvio Berlusconi is to return Italy to nuclear power, reversing a 20-year moratorium.
Claudio Scajola, the Industry Minister, said the construction of new nuclear plants would begin within the current legislature, which is expected to last a full five years. The Berlusconi government enjoys commanding majorities in both the Lower House of Parliament and the Senate.
Speaking at the annual assembly of Confindustria, the employers' association, Mr Scajola said: “We can no longer put off an action plan to return to nuclear power. Within this legislature we will lay the first stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear power plants.”
Mr Scajola continued: “Only with nuclear power will we be able to produce clean energy on a large scale, safely, at low cost and without damage to the environment.” The government would, however have to find “credible solutions for the disposal of nuclear waste,” he said.
Italy abandoned nuclear power after a referendum on the issue in November 1987, amid public alarm after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, with Italy's environmental lobbies conducting a powerful anti-nuclear campaign. The last nuclear power reactor was closed down in 1990. However, this left Italy reliant on imported energy, with 10 per cent of its electricity coming from nuclear plants across the border in France.
Mr Scajola said Italy needed energy “at competitive prices, in sufficient quantities and under guaranteed conditions.” Its current energy bill of €60 billion was a big factor in Italy's trade deficit, he said, adding: “The time has come to turn the page.” Mr Scajola said Italy would also speed up permits for the construction of natural-gas import plants and promote “renewable energy sources”.
The closing down of Italy's nuclear sector is estimated to have cost nearly €5 billion. Opponents of re-introducing nuclear power say that the risk of Chernobyl-type accidents remains high and that there are no identifiable sites in Italy suitable for new power stations or for storing nuclear waste. Mr Scajola did not indicate where the new nuclear plants would be built.