After a 20-year ban, France helps Italy embrace nuclear energy

By , Correspondent

MILAN, ITALY – Twenty years after banning new nuclear plants, Italy is turning to France to restore its nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a cooperation deal with President Nicolas Sarkozy for the construction of four power plants in Italy.

Italy shut down its four nuclear plants following a 1987 national referendum that rode a wave of fear and outrage over Russia’s Chernobyl reactor meltdown. Now it is joining a growing number of European countries – including Germany, Slovakia, and Bulgaria – that are returning to nuclear energy due to concerns both about carbon emissions and about the reliability of energy supplies from Russia.

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Earlier this year, a political crisis between the Kremlin and Ukraine left much of the continent dealing with gas shortages.

Click here to read my earlier story about Russia driving Europe back to the nuclear-power option.

The choice of a French partner came as no surprise here. The French state-owned power giant Électricité de France (EdF) is one of the world’s leaders in atomic energy, operating 18 facilities on French territory, with two more on the way.

Now EdF will work on the construction of the Italian plants in a 50-50 joint venture with its Italian equivalent, Enel (Ente Nazionale per l’Energia Elettrica). The first facility is expected to be operating by 2020.

Mr. Berlusconi’s announcement was met with harsh criticism from environmental groups, which expressed concerned about security and nuclear waste.

Giorgio Frankel, an energy expert at the Einaudi research center in Turin says that the 2020 start date may be optimistic. Restarting the nuclear program “will take a long time and is way more difficult than most people realize,” he says.

Mr. Frankel notes that key “components are produced only in a couple of factories around the world and there are waiting lists of several years.”

Italy is joining a long queue. “As several nations in Europe and in the Middle East, such as Egypt and Jordan, became determined to pursue peaceful atomic energy programs, the industry simply cannot keep up with the demand,” he says.

Click here to read about 13 Sunni Arab nations turning to nuclear energy.

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