Guide to the political debate on nuclear power in Italy

Guide to the political debate on nuclear power in Italy
Guide to the political debate on nuclear power in Italy

In recent months, the rise in the cost of electricity and gas has brought the debate on nuclear energy back to the fore in Italy. Among the Italian political parties there are those who, like like the

e Come on Italy, argues that it is necessary to think of returning to investing in nuclear energy, perhaps in innovative forms, while others oppose it, such as the and the 5 star movement.

Recently, after some of his ambiguous statements on the subject, the Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani has ruled out the return to the so-called “traditional nuclear” but defended the possibility of adopting new technologies, mostly still in the study or development phase. experimentation, which could make this energy source safer and more sustainable.

Beyond the scientific questions, what proposals have been made in Parliament in recent years on the nuclear front? And what are the positions of the individual parties today? To understand the current context, it is necessary to take a step back in time by about ten years.

The confusion between 2008 and 2011

Between 1963 and 1990 four nuclear power plants were active in Italy, progressively decommissioned after the 1987 abrogative referendum and the Chernobyl disaster, which occurred in the Soviet Union the previous year.

The nuclear debate returned to the fore about twenty years later. In June 2008, a decree-law of the fourth Berlusconi government had in fact initiated the preparation of a “National energy strategy”, which among other things envisaged the “realization in the national territory of nuclear energy production plants”. Other rules were later approved to try to make this objective a reality.

At the time, the measures pushed the Italia dei Valori party to promote a referendum initiative, then led by the “Vote Yes to stop nuclear power” committee, to repeal the new rules and stop the return of nuclear energy to our country. A few days before the referendum, on May 26, 2011, the Berlusconi government decided to take a sort of backtrack, suspending the progress of nuclear projects. Also because, in March 2011, there was the disastrous nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, which had led to profound rethinking of the nuclear commitment even in countries with numerous active power plants (such as Japan itself).

The Italian referendum was nevertheless held on 12-13 June 2011, with a question modified by the Court of Cassation and adapted to the new regulatory framework. The “Yes” front, in favor of eliminating nuclear power, won with 94 percent of the vote. The turnout of 57 per cent had also made it possible to reach a quorum and thus validate the results.

Since then, plans for a possible return to nuclear energy have cooled for several years.

Activity in Parliament

Between 2013 and 2018, few bills related specifically to nuclear energy were presented, all of which were generally opposed.

In 2013, for example, a popular initiative bill was re-presented, already made three years earlier, which explicitly provided for the exclusion of nuclear power for the production of energy in our country. However, the examination of the proposal has never been initiated, as well as that advanced in 2016 by a senator for the establishment of a commemorative day dedicated to the victims of nuclear disasters.

In the current legislature, which began in March 2018, only two initiatives have touched on the topic of nuclear power. With the first, in July 2020, the second Conte government proposed the ratification, then approved by Parliament, of two European nuclear protocols that modified the compensation systems for victims, which entered into force on 1 January 2022. A second bill, advanced in 2019 by the senator of Forza Italia Carlo Giacometto, would instead like to enlarge the audience of local authorities that would be entitled to compensation given by the presence of nuclear plants. The proposal is still waiting to be examined by the competent parliamentary committees.

Even the parties currently in favor of the reintroduction of nuclear energy, such as the Lega, have not actually presented any legislative proposals to Parliament on the matter, limiting themselves to making announcements above all.

What are the alignments between the parties

Today all the main Italian parties are opposed to the return of the so-called “traditional nuclear”, that is to say the construction of power plants similar to those already used in the past. Some politicians, mostly center-right, however, said they were in favor of the so-called “fourth generation nuclear”, new reactors with a different use of fuel that could be, according to its supporters, safer, environmentally sustainable and economical. This type of reactor is currently under study and, according to the most optimistic forecasts, it should not be available until the next ten years.

In recent months, the Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani (who is a technician and not a professional politician) and the leader of the Lega Matteo Salvini have expressed their support for research on this front. On 1 January Salvini also said he was ready to “collect the signatures for a referendum that will lead our country into an independent, safe and clean energy future”. Forza Italia is along the same lines, which on 7 January presented an “Energy Plan” to the government, with recourse to “clean nuclear power” within.

The position of the Brothers of Italy, the main opposition party to the Draghi government, seems to be more nuanced. Since the debate on nuclear power has returned to the fore, President Giorgia Meloni has not in fact expressed comments on it. At the beginning of 2021, however, a study on the subject was published, commissioned by the group of European Conservatives and Reformists (Ecr), which also includes the Brothers of Italy, and the democratic-liberal group Renew Europe which drew conclusions clearly in favor of nuclear energy.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Democratic Party secretary Enrico Letta

the decision of the European Commission to include nuclear power in the list of energy sources that can facilitate the transition towards a more sustainable future. The 5-star Movement and its leader, Giuseppe Conte, are also opposed to a possible return to nuclear power.

In the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (Pnrr), financed with European funds to cope with the crisis caused by Covid-19, nuclear energy is never mentioned.

The issue of the national repository for nuclear waste

Parallel to the debate on the return to nuclear power, another question has remained open for years, which periodically returns to be talked about: that relating to the creation of a single and definitive national repository for radioactive waste. Today the waste present in our country – resulting both from plants active in the past and from activities related to medicine, industry or research – are in fact kept in dozens of temporary deposits, scattered throughout the country, with various problems from the point of view monitoring and security. In other countries, such as France, there have been single national deposits for several decades in which all or almost all of the waste from energy production activities and more is collected.

The history of the Italian national deposit, also provided for by European regulations, is long and troubled. It had a decisive moment of relaunch in 2010, when the then Berlusconi government, together with the new interest in nuclear power that we have already talked about (and which would have been wrecked with the 2011 referendum), reiterated by law that a single “National repository for radioactive waste”, with an adjoining “Technological Park”, an area with tools and infrastructures for the management of activities “related to the management of radioactive waste”. The deposit project was entrusted to the Sogin Spa group, the public company responsible for the dismantling of Italian nuclear plants and the management of radioactive waste.

The official website of the project states that, once the site has been selected, the depot will be built in four years (the deadline for construction is set for 2029) and will employ about a thousand people. The planned investment is 900 million euros, financed with part of the electricity bills paid by citizens. Sogin will then have to guarantee the isolation of radioactive waste from the environment “for over 300 years”, that is, until it no longer represents a danger to the health of humans and the environment.

However, the roadmap established in 2010 has suffered several delays and to date the place where the two structures will rise has not yet been decided. However, something has moved in the last year. After years of waiting, in early January Sogin obtained the green light from the government to publish the “National Map of potentially suitable areas” (CNAPI), a map of 67 locations considered suitable for the construction of the depot. To identify the sites, areas with high seismic, volcanic or hydrogeological risk, those in the mountains, and those too close to the coast, inhabited centers or other strategic infrastructures such as airports or military bases were excluded.

With the publication of the map, a phase of public consultation has begun, which has not yet concluded. From Piedmont to Sardinia, in some municipalities identified as suitable for the construction of the deposit, protests have already been held by citizens and local institutions. In the hope of Sogin, once the characteristics of the project have been explained, there will be expressions of interest in hosting the deposit by the local authorities themselves in some of the areas identified by CNAPI.

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