Russian gas cutoff energizes nuclear comeback
Italy, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Britain are among those giving nuclear another look.
Europe's natural gas crisis is causing a nuclear fallout of sorts.Skip to next paragraph
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With the squabble between Russia and Ukraine leaving much of the continent with uncertain gas supplies, some governments seem to be getting over their "Chernobyl complexes" and are returning to nuclear energy, hoping it will provide a form of reliable, domestically produced energy.
Slovakia and Bulgaria, among the worst hit by the gas cutoff, announced this week that they may reopen Soviet-era reactors that had been dismantled in recent years, before the countries joined the European Union.
The EU had encouraged and provided funds for the closure of old nuclear facilities in Eastern Europe out of security concerns following the 1986 disaster in Ukraine.
Leaders of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet in Moscow Saturday to discuss the crisis, which began Jan. 6. Even if natural-gas supplies are fully restored, many worry the crisis will only be repeated next winter – after all, this is the third year in a row for a energy spat. Experts say the underlying causes of corruption and political disputes show no end of abating.
These factors helped prompt the Italian government to recently declare its intention to return to atomic energy, despite two decades of officially shunning the power source.
"What just happened made the Italians understand the importance of energy security [and that] we must go back to nuclear power if we want to become less dependent on others' moods," Claudio Scajola, Italy's minister for economic development, said Monday.
In 1987, a year after the Chernobyl disaster dusted much of Europe with radiation, Italians voted in a national referendum to cancel the country's nuclear energy program. Now, even the organizer of the antinuclear campaign has changed his mind, saying Italy must give nuclear another chance.
"The crisis clearly shows how vulnerable we are to geopolitical instabilities. We need to diversify our resources and that means also opening up to nuclear energy," says Chicco Testa, the referendum's organizer and one of Italy's leading environmentalists. "It's like playing a piano with many keys. Unfortunately ... we have been playing just two keys: oil and natural gas."
Environmentalists continue to debate the issue, but a desire to reduce the carbon footprint of energy suppliers is renewing interest in nuclear energy.
Mr. Testa first admitted six months ago that the referendum was a mistake. In a recent book, he promoted the idea of both renewable and nuclear energy. Now, he says his "opinion is really strengthened."