Italians pay the highest energy prices in Europe, and with escalating oil and gas costs, the country is changing its stance on nuclear power. More than 20 years after a public referendum banned nuclear power and deactivated all of Italy's reactors, Industry minister Claudio Scajola recently announced a new national energy strategy that includes the construction of new generation plants within the next five years.
Italy ‘needs energy at competitive prices, in sufficient quantities and under guaranteed conditions. Our current energy bill is some 60 billion euro and forces us to have a trade deficit', Scajola explained at the annual assembly of the employers' association, Confindustria. ‘Only with nuclear power will we be able to produce energy on a large scale, in a safe way, at competitive prices and with respect for the environment', he added.
Despite the need to reduce the country's dependence on imported oil and gas, the plan to return to nuclear power has not pleased everybody. Environmental groups throughout the country harshly criticized any plan to bring back nuclear power. Director of Greenpeace Italy, Giuseppe Onofrio, called the proposal ‘a declaration of war', while vice president of the Italian Senate, Emma Bonino, said building nuclear plants would not meet current demands because they would not be ready for at least 20 years.
Italy abandoned nuclear energy in a 1987 referendum, as did much of Europe, following the Chernobyl disaster in Russia the previous year. However, Italy's latest move seems to have triggered a chain reaction in the continent, where the need for increased energy security has become increasingly more important. Except for the major producers of nuclear power, like France and Britain, many European nations rely on imports.
According to Ian Hore-Lacey, spokesperson for the London-based World Nuclear Association, ‘Italy has had the most dramatic, the most public turnaround, but the sentiments against nuclear are reversing very quickly all across Europe'.