The newly-elected Italian government is planning a new generation of nuclear power plants, the minister of economic development Claudio Scajola told a meeting of the Italian employers' association, Confindustria.
"Before the end of
this legislature, we
will take the first
step in constructing
a new generation of
nuclear plants in our
Italian economic minister
Speaking about Italy's energy situation, he said: "The country needs energy at competitive costs, in appropriate quantities and in certain conditions. There is no reason why our companies must pay more for energy than their main European competitors, with the fear of interruptions in supply, more and increasing burdens due to the Kyoto Protocol."
Scajola added, "We must act forcefully on three pillars: diversification, infrastructure and internationalisation. We need to diversify the geographic areas of supply and energy sources, developing energy efficiency and new technological options: renewables, clean coal and, in particular, nuclear energy."
He said that prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had made the reintroduction of nuclear energy part of his manifesto during the elections and that he would now keep to this commitment with "conviction and determination." The new government took office last week. Scajola added, "Before the end of this legislature, we will take the first step in constructing a new generation of nuclear plants in our country." The Italian government serves a five-year term.
"It is our intention to establish a national energy strategy that includes priorities, addresses and means of implementation for the short- and long-term," he said. "This strategy will be submitted for public consultation and debate through a National Conference for Energy and the Environment."
Scajola stressed that "an action plan for a return to nuclear energy can no longer be avoided", adding that "only nuclear plants allow the production of energy on a large scale, in a safe, cost competitive way and respecting the environment." He said, "We must therefore rebuild skills and regulatory institutions, forming the necessary technical and entrepreneurial sector and providing credible solutions for radioactive waste."
The minister said that the government's energy policy will focus on constructing new and modernising existing infrastructure, including building new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, developing new gas storage sites and enhancing interconnection transmission capacity with other countries.
On his first day as prime minister, Berlusconi told the upper house of parliament that "nuclear power, with all the necessary precautions, is today an indispensable option, not just for guaranteeing the energy needed for future development, but for safeguarding the environment we live in."
Meanwhile, environment minister Raffaele Ventresca has said that Italy's environment and industry ministries, regional governments and state agencies are in the process of identifying potential radioactive waste storage sites, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper. The search is focusing on potential sites for an above-ground storage area, the report said. Ventresca said that a site could be identified by June.
Following a referendum in November 1987, provoked by the Chernobyl accident 18 months earlier, work on Italy's nuclear program was largely stopped. In 1988, the government resolved to halt all nuclear construction, shut the remaining reactors and decommission them from 1990. As well as the operating plants, two new boiling water reactors were almost complete and six locally-designed pressurized water recator units were planned. Various fuel cycle facilities were also shut down. The country now relies on imported energy to meet its needs - notably from France, where 78% of electricity comes from nuclear.
In 2004, a new energy law opened up the possibility of joint venture with foreign companies in relation to nuclear power plants and importing electricity from them. This resulted from a clear change in public opinion, especially among younger people favouring nuclear power for Italy.