Thanks to a referendum in 1987 Italy was the first industrialized country to phase out from nuclear power. More than 20 years after this historical popular vote, Italy's right wing government lead by Silvio Berlusconi decided to push for a “nuclear renaissance” in the country. Announced soon after the elections in 2007, the nuclear program drafted by Claudio Scajola, minister of economic development, aims to build eight new nuclear power plants in order to meet the goal of 25% of electricity production from nuclear.
Legambiente - Italy, according to a common idea shared by government and some industrial sectors, lost competitiveness by choosing to abandon nuclear power and is now paying the cost of electricity more than its neighbors. Nuclear power, as usually put forward by its supporters, will guarantee greater energy security for the country, will lead to great savings in the electricity bill and finally will help fighting climate change. After all, the thesis supported by nuclear promoters in Italy is the same as used in many industrialized countries, and is constantly denied by facts.
Starting from the analysis produced by the American Department of Energy (DoE), many studies indicate that the cost of electricity produced by nuclear power will continue in the future to be higher than the traditional energy sources. In Italy as elsewhere, according to what is also stressed in the 2009 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, nuclear power won't be competitive if not subsided by the state. Due to the high costs and the time needed to realize new reactors, nuclear power won't have positive effects in the fight against climate change. Recently Scajola admitted that the first nuclear plant would not be ready before 2025. By that time however Italy should already have drastically reduced its greenhouses gases emissions in order to comply with the Kyoto protocol and the 2020 targets approved by the European Union last January (2009). At last nuclear power will have no positive effects on the Italian energy security due to the need of uranium importations and the nuclear waste exportations. Facts and scenarios clearly show that nuclear power will not allow the Berlusconi government to fulfill its promises. On the contrary what is clear is that new reactors will create huge consequences starting from the risk of accidents, the radioactive contamination and the waste management. All kinds of problems Italian authorities should know very well.
Twenty-two years after the referendum the authorities are still very far from getting rid of the heavy inheritance left by the four plants built in the past. Decommissioning of existing reactors is still at the beginning and there is no clear idea on how to deal with the huge amount of nuclear waste produced in 30 years of activity. According to the National Agency for the Protection of territory and environment (APAT) Italy has a hundred temporary deposit sites which host a total of 25000 cubic meters of radioactive waste and a big part of it is still stocked inside the plants. In 2003 the Berlusconi government decided to build a single temporary disposal site in Scanzano Ionico, in southern Italy, a decision also motivated by an attempt to limit the dangerous fragmentation in the control and security system. However the plan was abandoned soon afterwards due to a lack of reliable environmental evaluation, underestimation of risks and thanks to strong s mobilization lead by local environmental grassroots organizations. Today the nuclear waste remains where it is and the management costs are still paid through public resources. In the pasts 10 years more than 600 million euro is spent for the nuclear bill and a further 3 billion euro are expected to be paid in the next future. There is however another element besides costs that should worry Italian authorities: the high interest by the Mafia concerning all waste management businesses.
Denounced for several decades but more recently proved by various trials, Italy, in particularly its southern regions, has been used as a big dump for illegal disposal of industrial and urban waste. This is a business, lead by criminal organizations such as Camorra and 'Ndrangheta, that could have also involved radioactive material as recently pointed out by a Mafioso turned informant. Last September Francesco Fonti, a detained for Mafia, revealed the involvement of criminal organization in the “Poison Boats” case which regards an undefined number of ships loaded with waste and deliberately sunk in the Mediterranean coasts of Calabria. According to Fonti, who with his revelation made it possible to find a wreck supposedly used for the traffic, criminal organizations dealt also with nuclear waste and buried several radioactive drums on land near the city of Matera while some other drums were loaded on boats.
Neither the risks, nor the high cost scenarios nor the Mafia activity in the waste business are however preventing the government to keep on with the “nuclear renaissance” plan. Last July the right wing majority in the Parliament adopted a law that gives extra power to the government in order to choose sites for new nuclear plants and provides the use of military forces to make its realization possible. On December 23, a new decree fixed the criteria for the nuclear site selection and provided huge subsidies for local communities that will host nuclear plants. To compensate damages during the plant construction, government established a 3.000 Euro compensation for every MW realized, while a 0,4 Euro subsidies is set after the plant starts working. The strategy the government is drafting aims to prevent all kind of protests and demonstrations against nuclear, but the effect until now is rather the opposite.
On September 30, with the support of environmental organizations, 11 Regions, on a total of 20, contested the law approved in July, asking the intervention of the Constitutional Court.. According to the Regions and to the environmental organizations the law violates the Italian Constitution by giving the government the power to decide without the consensus of local institutions. One month later another blow to the governmental strategy came from the Puglia Region, where the local Partito delle Libertà, the Berlusconi coalition, voted together with the left wing coalition in favor of a regional law against nuclear.
Meanwhile the 'no nuclear power' movement is growing and is likely to become even more persuasive than in 1987, also thanks to the great potentials offered today in Italy by renewable sources and energy efficiency. The expansion of clean and decentralized energy is already a reality in the country. This is proved by over a hundred local communities that in the past years became energy autonomous. The antinuclear front, as written in a slogan during the last demonstrations, is “ready to win again”.