Trade union doubts Italy's nuclear revival

23 April 2009

Leaders at Italy's major trade union have expressed scepticism on the revival of nuclear power in the country, despite increasing political and industrial support.

Betto Aquilino from the energy office of FILCEM, the energy branch of Italy's largest union the CGIL, spoke at a recent Rome seminar on the transfer of utility Enel from the public to private sector. He said that the official position of CGIL was that private investment in nuclear power was wrong due to current unknowns including build costs and ultimate waste disposal.

He added that nuclear education had been seriously depleted in the years since the 1987 referendum that led to the phase-out of nuclear power and now only six Italian universities offered nuclear engineering courses.

FILCEM predicts, Aquilino said, more than 61,000 MWe of grid connection requests in the next five years with about one quarter coming from wind projects. Aquilino said nuclear power should be put aside in favour of renewables but for the first time supported the further use of fossil fuels.

Though CGIL's stance is odd for a trade union connected with the power industry, the body has strong long-standing links with the Green party and lent its support to the 1987 referendum to end nuclear power.

However, the political and industrial push for nuclear in Italy continues. Claudio Scajola, the minister for economic development, plans a new generation of nuclear power plants starting from 2013 and the main utility, Enel, has made agreements with Electricité de France towards up to four large reactors. Further agreements are expected, with actors such as Germany's EOn and the Russian industry waiting in the wings.

Finance for potential projects remains unclear. EOn has said it is interested in the Italian market and would like to take leadership roles in any consortia, while the Finnish 'Mankala' model of shared ownership of a non-profit generator has support among large power customers and some utilities.