Italy joins GNEP

14 November 2007

Despite a ban on the use of nuclear energy, Italy has joined the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

On 13 November, Italian minister of economic development Pier Luigi Bersani met US energy secretary Sam Bodman to sign an agreement to advance cooperation in energy research and development. Bodman's department said this builds on an existing bilateral agreement between the nations. Both nuclear technology and carbon sequestration are covered by the deal and the additional signing of the GNEP Statement of Principles brought Italy officially into that project.

The signing took place at the 20th World Energy Congress Ministerial Forum in Rome.

Bodman said: "By becoming a member of GNEP, Italy is joining a growing group of nations committed to developing solutions to power a clean, safe and reliable energy future."

In September at the second GNEP Ministerial Meeting, Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Ukraine signed up, joining the founding partners China, France, Japan, Russia and the USA. Some major nuclear nations remain outside the project: Canada, India, South Korea and the UK.

GNEP seeks to find a global concensus on the direction nuclear power should take in future. It principally envisages a system of fuel-cycle nations selling reactors and guaranteed fuel supplies to any other nation that abides by its international non-proliferation obligations. The fuel-cycle nations would take back the highly-radioactive used nuclear fuel, reprocess it, recycle the recovered uranium and plutonium, burn some wastes in a fast reactor and permanently store the leftovers.

Italy's phase-out

That Italy should officially support the scheme comes as a surprise: Italy shut down all five of its nuclear power reactors following a 1987 referendum called shortly after the Chernobyl disaster. However, until that time Italy had been enthusiastic towards nuclear power. In the 1960s it became the first country to use nuclear power that did not also have a nuclear weapons program, progressing rapidly to start up five power reactors of three different types between 1963 and 1978. After the referendum, construction work on two more units was stopped and all five power reactors were all shut down by 1990.

With few natural resources of its own, Italy now generates much of its electric power using imported gas, at the highest costs in Europe. It also imports a significant share of its power, with 10% coming from France, where it is predominantly generated by nuclear stations.

Italian companies have recently become involved in several nuclear projects in other countries. In particular, the utility Enel has taken stakes in nuclear projects in
 Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Spainwhile it is also expected to take a share in another in France.

Further information

WNA's Nuclear Energy in Italy information paper

WNN: Italy slowly opens doors to nuclear power
WNN: Membership of GNEP has tripled