Political risk for Italian nuclear

03 February 2010

Italy's inter-regional body rejected the nuclear energy policy proposed by Silvio Berlusconi's government during a late January session. Meanwhile, regional elections are approaching, giving rise to fears for Italy's nuclear renaissance.


The Conferenza Stato-Regioni consultation body exists for the discussion of issues where competence is shared between central and regional governments. While the regions of Lombardia, Friuli-Venezia and Veneto supported central pro-nuclear policies, all the rest as well as two autonomous provinces were in opposition, resulting in a vote of 18 to three rejecting the re-introduction of nuclear power.


An outside view
A review of Italy's energy policy welcomed the return of nuclear power. International Energy Agency head Nobuo Tanaka said Italy's electricity supply is vulnerable because of its high dependency on imports.
However, the introduction of nuclear power "will enable the country to reduce its heavy dependence on imports of fossil fuels and electrictiy, and to lower emissions, at least in the long term," he said.


Tanaka was speaking in Rome today at the launch of the IEA's Italy 2009 Review. He concluded by noting the delays Italy has had in building renewables and liquid natural gas terminals. Tanaka was concerned that nuclear "may face similar obstacles."

The opinion of this body is not binding under the Italian constitution, but it represents a clear political message to the central government, especially given that center-right governors were voting against their own party line. 


Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and minister for economic development Claudio Scajola were authorised by parliament to frame a set of rules for a new nuclear energy policy under the Legge sviluppo nuclear development law adopted on 9 July 2009. But time is now fast running out, as the government was given six months to act before the authorisation expires. They are supposed to define the criteria for future nuclear power plant site selection, but if they miss the deadine the nuclear law will have to be re-entered to parliament.


The Italian cabinet will have to decide on a course of action after listening to the opinion of the Conferenza Unificata, the local authorities, the central government and the industry commissions of the parliament. However, the opinion of the Conferenza Unificata will likely be similar to that of the Conferenza Stato-Regioni as pointed out by the mayor of Turin, Sergio Chiamparino, who warned of protests against the nuclear policy.


The president of the Basilicata region, Vito De Filippo, said at the end of the session, 'We are against nuclear power and today in Rome most of the regions stood for this idea'. He added that 'it is not a coincidence' that 11 of 20 regions 'have already challenged the law before the Constitutional Court, which will decide on 22 June'.


Recently nominated Sicilian Energy Counsellor Pier Carmelo Russo added that 'Sicily has no longer environmental tolerance for nuclear power plants', despite having a centre-right governor and the highest prices of energy in the country - some 38% above the Italian average price last year.


In response to the upswell of feeling, Stefano Saglia, under-secretary at the Ministry of Economic Development, said during an interview: 'We will try to take into account the objections that will not affect the meaning of the law as for the suggestion of making the whole process more transparent', He also explained that 'we will involve the local communities in the process' in reference to the words of Turin mayor Sergio Chiamparino.


Regional elections on 28 March look likely to complicate the picture further, with the possibility that Berlusconi will drop pro-nuclear ideals to win at the polls. Almost half of the regions will elect new leaders.


Reporting by Luciano Lavecchia
for World Nuclear News