Published on September 21st, 2008 | by Timothy B. Hurst4
Italy’s Berlusconi Vows a Return to Nuclear
Italian energy plan to also include renewables
A month after the conservatives and their embattled leader returned to power back in April, the Italian government said it would begin building nuclear power stations to solve the country’s dependence on foreign oil and gas supplies.
“A new national energy plan will be presented in spring, which will be based on three points: diversification of supplies, the start of nuclear energy production and development of renewable and alternative energy,” Berlusconi said at the opening ceremony of a new liquefied natural gas terminal.
The decision to return to nuclear would reverse a 20-year ban on nuclear power stemming from a 1987 referendum passed in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, a year earlier. The country’s four nuclear plants operating at the time were shut down, and have not produced any power since.
A return to nuclear power would be long, complicated, and undoubtedly contentious. Under Italian law, local authorities have a final say in approval of any big industrial project. Even proponents of a return to nuclear power say it would be extremely difficult to swing public opinion and find sites for new plants and waste storage.
“We say ‘No’ to nuclear… to construction of plants which would be outdated by the time they are built… the plants which are not secure and create waste problems,” said Marcello Saponaro, the head of Greens in the northern region of Lombardy.
But the political environment in Italy may be ripe for nuclear as the country is facing skyrocketing energy prices. Berlusconi said the new energy plan will lower the cost of electricity for Italian consumers, which are among the highest in Europe.
Very little of Italy’s electricity is generated domestically; the country imports 87 percent of its energy, most of which come in the form of fossil fuels. Renewables account for about 15-17 percent of Italy’s energy mix, and most of that comes from hydroelectric power.