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Vol. 342 ,
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Italy Puts Nuclear Power on Indefinite Hold
21 April 2011 12:12 pm
Plans to build a new generation of nuclear reactors in Italy have run aground following the accident at the Fukushima plant in Japan last month.
The center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi announced in 2008 that it wanted to start constructing four new nuclear plants by 2013 in order to reduce the country's considerable dependence on imported energy. That would reverse a ban on nuclear energy generation imposed by a referendum held in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. But the Japanese accident led the government to announce a 1-year moratorium on its nuclear program, and yesterday the upper house of parliament approved a measure to delay the setting up of new plants indefinitely.
Davide Tabarelli, president of Italian energy consultants Nomisma Energia, believes that the latest move "does not come as a surprise." He points out that the nuclear program had already encountered delays and had met fierce opposition from regional governments unwilling to host new plants, so creating political difficulties for the Berlusconi administration. "The accident at Fukushima, although a tragedy, gave the Italian government a kind of excuse to get rid of nuclear," he says.
In fact, opposition politicians accuse the government of introducing the new measure in order to avoid a 12 June referendum on the return of nuclear power that the government looked set to lose. Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the Italy of Values party, maintains that the government has "cheated" the Italian people, arguing that it has simply delayed the site selection process rather than abandoned nuclear power altogether.
Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani said on Tuesday that the government will present a new 20-year energy strategy after the summer, explaining that "it is important to look to the future, using the best available technology for the production of clean energy, in particular renewables."
Tabarelli says that such a strategy is long overdue, having been promised as far back as 2007 by the then left-of-center government of Romano Prodi. But he is skeptical that it will deliver the necessary increases to domestic energy production. In particular, Tabarelli believes it is "almost impossible" that Italy will reach its target, set in 2009, of using renewables to supply 17% of the country's total energy needs by 2020. He points out that Italian investors have recently withdrawn from the photovoltaics market following uncertainties over the future of government subsidies.