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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Italy's nuclear rollercoaster: the government scraps nuclear energy for the second time

Italy is a curious country for many reasons. One is its attitude towards nuclear energy, that has been going up and down in the government's programs like a true rollercoaster.

Back in the 1960s, Italy had an ambitious nuclear program; one of the most advanced in the world. Then, something happened in the 1970s that made the nuclear industry the target of some powerful political forces. After a struggle that lasted about a decade, nuclear energy in Italy was officially killed by a popular referendum that took place in 1987. In the 1990s, Italy was the only country in the world that dismantled perfectly functioning nuclear plants.

In the 2000s, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. In 2008, Mr. Berlusconi's party won the national elections and rapidly embarked in a new nuclear program that involved building at least four nuclear plants and perhaps four more. And now, suddenly, the plan has been shelved again by a new bill that scraps all the previous decrees on nuclear energy.

The reason for this sudden policy reversal is commonly said to be related to the need to avoid the popular referendum on nuclear energy set for June of this year. After the Fukushima disaster, it is almost certain that the referendum would have resulted in the defeat of the government's nuclear plans. But there may have been other reasons; in particular the high cost of the plan that had been recently declared to be "too expensive" by the Italian finance minister, Mr. Tremonti.

So, Italy has been a true rollercoaster for nuclear energy: killed by law at least two times in a few decades; surely a unique case in the world. But are we seeing now the final demise of the idea of nuclear plants in Italy? Perhaps not: the recent government decree may simply be a stop to nuclear energy, not its definitive disappearance. After the effect of the Fukushima disaster is over, it is not impossible that we'll see the government's nuclear rollercoaster restarting its ride. Italy is a curious country, indeed.


  1. If nuclear energy was deemed too expensive in the recent past, it certainly will sink behind the financial horizon in the near future, possibly forever.
    The credit crunch's second coming will see to that, especially in combination with dwindling oil availability and rising prices.

  2. I have firts hand information that the italian nuclear power plants have never been perfectly functioning. Duty cyles (energy production) ranging from 30% to 50% cannot be quoted as "perfectly functioning".

  3. To Lagerdargent. Indeed, nuclear energy has always been expensive. I am preparing a post on the subject where I think I found the reason why nuclear stalled in the 1970s.

  4. About the old Italian plants, the first three were rather advanced for their time (1960s); but were experimental ones - and rather small. Maybe the data you have refers to these old plant. The one in Caorso was the only modern plant; built in the 1970s. It had its troubles but for what I know it worked reasonably well for a plant of that kind.

  5. That is very nice this such that Italy has an ambitious nuclear program and that is one of the most advanced in the world. Therefore I think that can also become the largest, most thrilling roller coaster in the world.

  6. Alex, Italy HAD a very ambitious nuclear program back in the 1960s. Then, the program was destroyed by a coalition of a politicians; most likely paid by Italy's enemies. It is a long story; it will suffice to say that the president of the Italian Commission for Nuclear Energy (CNEN) was accused of some trivial administrative crimes and sentenced to 11 years of jail. One day I should write this story in English - it is not well known outside Italy