Nuclear issue back on Italian ballot

02 June 2011

Italy's Supreme Court has ruled that a referendum to be held in the country later this month should include a question on the future development of nuclear power, despite government efforts to avert such a vote. 


A referendum on the planned re-introduction of nuclear power was proposed by centrist political party Italia dei Valori (Italy of Values) in April 2010. The proposed referendum concerns the partial repeal of several laws introduced since 2008 to enable the construction of new Italian nuclear power plants to go ahead. A petition by the party successfully gathered the 500,000 signatures of Italian voters needed for the referendum to proceed through the Italian legislative system. In January 2011, Italy's Constitutional Court ruled that the referendum could take place.


However, in late March, following the accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the Italian government approved a moratorium of at least one year on construction of nuclear power plants in the country, which had been looking to restart its long-abandoned nuclear program. At that time, minister of economic development Paolo Romani said that the moratorium would allow Italy to make "calm, informed" decisions on its nuclear program "not influenced by the emotions of the moment."


At the same time the moratorium was announced, the Council of Ministers also approved an unrelated legislative decree amending existing nuclear legislation to integrate various technical amendments. The amendments will not come into effect before the end of the moratorium.


With such a moratorium in place, Silvio Berlusconi's government claimed a referendum on the future of nuclear energy was unnecessary. However, opposition parties had claimed that the prime minister was ignoring widespread public opposition to nuclear energy by not allowing the referendum to go ahead. One survey published by the Fullresearch Institute in March indicated that seven out of ten Italians were against new nuclear plants in the country.


The electoral office of the Court of Cassation has now ruled that a referendum to be held on 12-13 June will include a question about the government's moratorium on the use of nuclear energy.


Should turn-out be high enough and the majority of people vote against the reintroduction of nuclear energy in Italy, the moratorium could become permanent rather than temporary.


Italy operated a total of four nuclear power plants starting in the early 1960s but decided to phase out nuclear power in a referendum that followed the 1986 Chernobyl accident. It closed its last two operating plants, Caorso and Trino Vercellese, in 1990. Decommissioning work is under way at all of Italy's previously operating nuclear plants. Over recent years, the country has revisited the idea of using nuclear power, and since a 2008 change in government policy utility Enel has proposed the construction of four large reactors, in cooperation with EDF.


In addition to the question on the future of nuclear energy in Italy, the referendum will also include questions about plans for the privatisation of water services and on a key piece of legislation on 'legitimate impediment' that would effectively exempt Berlusconi from criminal trials when he is in office. He is currently facing trial in four separate high-profile cases. Berlusconi's original idea, his opposition claim, had been to push through his immunity law alongside what he thought would be a low-profile vote on nuclear power.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News