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Italy moves closer to nuclear power

Cabinet approves guidelines for selection of sites

10 February, 18:55
Italy moves closer to nuclear power
Italy moves closer to nuclear power
Italy moves closer to nuclear power

(ANSA) - Rome, February 10 - The Cabinet on Wednesday approved guidelines paving the way for the return of nuclear power to Italy, amid outcry from the opposition. The guidelines establish the criteria for selecting sites for nuclear power plants, outlawed in Italy over 20 years ago following a 1987 referendum in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster. The new guidelines are contained in a government decree under a law approved by parliament last summer clearing the return of nuclear power. ''[Nuclear power] will ensure greater security in our energy supplies, reduce dependency on imports and bring prices in line with those in Europe,'' commented Industry Minister Claudio Scajoloa in a statement released following the Cabinet decision.

According to Scajola, construction on new power plants should get under way in 2013, with energy production beginning in 2020.

The guidelines will eventually be used by private companies building and running the plants in order to select appropriate sites. However, the government must develop a national nuclear strategy and set up a Nuclear Safety Agency before companies will be allowed to start bidding for contracts. The 2009 law authorizing the return of nuclear power was passed amid fierce opposition centering on safety concerns but Scajola said the new system took such fears into account. ''The decree is characterized by transparency and absolute respect for the security of people and the environment,'' the minister said. ''Local populations and institutions will be involved in all stages of decision-making'', while the new plants ''will be obliged to respect the highest safety standards in regards to public health and environmental protection'', he said.

Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo also voiced her confidence in the measures. ''The government's nuclear decision will focus on the utmost security and the most careful safeguards for the environment,'' she said. But the opposition, which boycotted the parliamentary vote last summer in an unsuccessful bid to prevent a quorum being reached, remained angry over the move. OPINION POLLS SHOW MOST ITALIANS ARE AGAINST NUCLEAR POWER.

As well as fears over safety, opposition politicians suggested the government had left the decision over the location of sites in private hands in order to avoid a public backlash, particularly ahead of upcoming regional elections. There was also criticism of the government's decision last week to take three regional authorities to the Constitutional Court over recently enacted local laws prohibiting the construction of nuclear reactors. The environmental shadow minister of the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party, accused the government of trying to trick the public. ''Let [Premier Silvio] Berlusconi tell the truth about nuclear power, starting with where these plants will actually be built,'' said Ermete Realacci, describing the guidelines as a ploy to deflect public anger. ''The state is committing to destroying the electricity market, with a pro-nuclear propaganda campaign, and depriving local authorities and regional government of their say on where sites should be located''.

The head of Italy's Green party, Angelo Bonelli, called for a referendum, accusing the government of carrying out a ''sensational fraud against the Italian public because nuclear power is not only dangerous for the environment and health but unsustainable from an economic point of view''. The environmental spokesman for the opposition Italy of Values party, Paolo Brutti, said the government decree ''does away with the regional governments, transparency, the market, common sense and the safety of the Italian public''. ''It places the decision on where to locate power plants in the hands of private bodies and replaces regional decision-making power with that of the Cabinet,'' he said. The Italian Communist Party environmental representative, Claudio Saroufim, warned of the ''health and environmental risks'' and accused the government of approving guidelines rather than specific sites ''out of fear of regional elections''.

The centre-right government has been a strong proponent of nuclear energy, which was entirely phased out by 1990, since taking power. A year ago, it struck an accord with France for the joint construction of four nuclear plants in Italy and five in France.

This was followed in September by a five-year agreement with Washington for the development of 12 nuclear power plants in Italy, with the option to extend the accord another five years.

Opinion polls indicate between 50% and 60% of Italians oppose nuclear power, rising to over 80% at the idea of a plant being built near where they live. The Constitutional Court will make a ruling in coming months over whether Southern Campania, Puglia and Basilicata were entitled to ban the construction of the nuclear plants in regional territory.

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