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No to nuclear power - historic victory Italian referendum

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

It was clear that a majority of the Italian people is against nuclear power, but was that enough to bring them to the polls in the Pentecost holiday weekend? Because without 50% +1 vote of all Italian voters the referendum would not be valid. Since 1995 no referendum held had been able to conquer that 50% threshold, so that was the real question. The answer is "yes': 57 percent of all voters took the opportunity to vote against nuclear power privatization of water and against Berlusconi.

Only on June 1, it became clear that the referendum would go ahead. The Corte di Cassazione, Italy's top court, ruled that the referendum could go ahead as planned on June 12-13. The center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi announced in the wake of the Fukushima a two-year moratorium on plans to relaunch the nuclear sector and in doing so, had hoped to avoid the referendum (see Nuclear Monitor 727, 27 May 2011).

Overcome the daunting task of a quorum of 50 per cent + 1 of all Italian voters in the face of a mass media controlled by Berlusconi and a government that was encouraging voters to go to the beach instead of vote on the first weekend of summer vacation for Italian grade school, middle school and high school students was the main task.

On Sunday June 12, there was a frenzy of activity in every town and city, on the streets, in the coffee bars, in the town squares, on the beaches, everywhere! The proponents of the referendums threw all caution to the wind as they called to every passerby to go to the polls and not let this important opportunity pass by. This was an incredible mobilization that had a domino effect, as students, families and co-workers pushed one another to vote. Flags sprung up on balconies, stickers on the windows of busses and walls of the metros, with bicyclists up and down the coasts whistling and shouting to get out the vote. Since 1995 no single referendum reached the 50% quorum. On Sunday evening already 41% had voted and victory was possible.

On Monday evening, June 13, the leader of the Italian of Values Party Antonio Di Pietro, who last year launched the petition drives for the referendums on nuclear energy and Legitimate Impediment held a press conference to express his pride and contentment with the outcome of this historic vote, stating that “this was a victory of the Italian People and not of the Political Establishment,” and again calling for Berlusconi to resign from power.

This is a great result also considering that there has been an almost total media blackout on all the four referendum, an institutionally driven blackout with a specific goal: not enough voters showing up to render any outcome invalid.

Over the past two months countless activities of many groups in civil society have been able to break the silence, giving back to the people the democratic right to exclude from their future and from future generations the tragic experiences the people in Chernobyl and in Fukushima have gone through, and still are.

The vote was widely seen as a poll on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was a strong proponent of nuclear energy.  "Following the decision the Italian people are taking at this moment, we must probably say goodbye to the possibility of nuclear power stations and we must strongly commit ourselves to renewable energy," Berlusconi said.

The Italian government planned to get 25 percent of its energy mix from nuclear power by 2020 and 25 percent from renewables. The referendum precipitated a huge boost in shares of renewables companies.

The 1987 Referendum
The November 8, 1987 Italian referendum on nuclear power, was launched after the Chernobyl accident by the Green party and backed by Socialist and Communist party. The referendum rejected the expansion of the country's nuclear power industry by the construction of new nuclear power plants. Voters were actually polled about three (technical worded) issues:

* abolishing the statutes by which the Inter-ministries Committee for the Economical Programming (CIPE) could decide about the locations for nuclear plants, when the Regions did not so within the time stipulated by Law 393; (80,6 % in favor)
* abolishing rewards for municipalities in whose territories nuclear or coal plants were to be built; (79,7 % in favor)
* abolishing the statutes allowing (state-owned energy-utility) Enel to take part in international agreements to build and manage nuclear plants. (71,8 % in favor)

Subsequently, the Italian government decided in 1988 to phase out existing plants. This led to the termination of work on the near-complete Montalto di Castro, and the early closure of Enrico Fermi and Caorso nuclear power plants, both of which closed in 1990.

Sources: Reuters, 1 June & 13 June 2-11; Greenpeace Blog, 13 June 2011;, 14 June 2011
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