Italy slowly reopens doors to nuclear power

30 October 2007

Italy is beginning to reconsider nuclear power - some 20 years after a referendum which banned it.

Several members of parliament from different sides of the political spectrum are now speaking in favour of nuclear energy, including representatives of the former Communist Party and Chicco Testa, one of the most vocal promoters of the 1987 phase-out referendum.  

Pierferdinando Casini, leader of the Union of the Christian Democrats, has also prepared an official parliamentary debate to "follow the way of nuclear energy again" and the Chamber of Deputies will hold a dedicated meeting on the subject in November.

In the midst of the resurgence of political interest, utility Enel and engineering contractor Ansaldo Nucleare are strengthening their positions in international markets. In 2005 Enel acquired a majority share of Slovenske Electrarne of Slovakia and has now interests in Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Spain.  Ansaldo Nucleare was a major contractor in the project to complete the Cernavoda units in Romania and is a likely candidate for a leading role in completion of units 3 and 4.  

Meanwhile, Pierre Gadonneix, CEO of Electricite de France (EdF), has announced that he is personally in favour of a potential memorandum of understanding that would make Enel a partner in the Flamanville 3 project, where the Italian utility would take 200 MWe of the new reactor's 1650 MWe output.  The deal is being renegotiated with Italian authorities, said Gadonneix in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama, contradicting an earlier statement but confirming longstanding rumors that Enel would have an active role in the project from 2008.

The price of electricity in Italy is the highest among industrialized countries and is strongly dependent on the price of oil. Italy still relies on oil for the production of about 20% of its electricity and on gas for more than 45%.  Figures from the International Energy Agency put the wholesale cost of electricity to Italian industrial consumers at Eur140/MWh. The next highest was Japan at Eur97/MWh and the lowest was Norway at Eur35/MWh.

Italy was a pioneer of civil nuclear power and in 1946 established the first scientific body to pursue this. In 1960s it was one of the leading countries in the world for the use of nuclear energy with the highest installed generating capacity among countries without nuclear weapons programs.  

In 2004 new energy legislation 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 in favour of nuclear power, especially among younger people.

Investing in nuclear abroad

Italian companies like Enel and Ansaldo Nucleare are not the only ones from countries with political nuclear phase-out policies that have sought to invest in nuclear power projects abroad.

On 25 October Nuclearelectrica, the Romanian owner of the Cernavoda plant announced the shortlist of companies that may invest alongside it in the completion of two more Candu-6 reactors there. The list of companies included Enel, Electrabel of Belgium, Iberdrola of Spain and RWE of Germany, all from countries with anti-nuclear policies.

Also on the list were CEZ of the Czech Republic and Arcelor-Mittal of Romania. Offers from the companies are now being analysed and a final selection of partners should be announced by the end of November

Further information

Ansaldo Nucleare

WNA's Nuclear Power in Italy information paper

WNN: Enel's Flamanville disappointment