France supporting nuclear power in Italy, France

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country is willing to work with Italy on nuclear power as part of a common energy strategy in response to high oil prices.

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, June 3 -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country is willing to work with Italy on nuclear power as part of a common energy strategy in response to high oil prices.

Sarkozy's comments, which came after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, coincided with ongoing public protests in France and Spain over the high cost of fuel for homes and transportation.

The French president's remarks followed reports last week that the Italian government, seeking to reverse the results of a 20-year-old referendum, wants to begin construction of nuclear power stations to reduce the country's dependence on imported oil and gas.

"During the term of this parliament we will lay the first stone for the construction in our country of a group of new-generation nuclear power stations," said Economic Development Minister Claudia Scajola.

"We can no longer avoid an action plan for a return to nuclear power," Scajola told the Italian employers' federation Confindustria.

The announcement by Scajola appears to reverse the results of a 1987 referendum that renounced nuclear power generation and closed the country's four nuclear plants. The referendum followed the Apr. 26, 1986, nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Confindustria head Emma Marcegaglia agreed with the government decision, saying the time has come "to invest in nuclear energy," as Italy has become too dependent on foreign energy sources.

Fulvio Conti, head of Italy's principal power group Enel, also agreed, saying his company was "technically ready" to take part in the initiative.

"It's a good start on the part of the government, which confirms the need to diversify (energy) sources and to invest in infrastructure," he told state news agency Ansa. The Italian government, either directly or indirectly, has a 30% stake in Enel.

Speaking in April at an International Energy Forum in Rome, Conti said Italy, which generates around 60% of its energy from gas, was "too dependent" on foreign imports.

At the forum, Conti said it would likely take 7-10 years for a new nuclear generator to come online: 7 years on an already licensed site or 10 years on a site where construction was not yet licensed.

If the government proceeds with its plans, Enel is thought likely to begin construction at Montalto di Castro, where it initiated construction on two pressure water reactors in the 1980s.

Although the Montalto facility was partially dismantled after the 1987 referendum, Enel still owns the site.

Environmental groups in Italy immediately attacked any plan to bring back nuclear power. Giuseppe Onufrio, a director of Greenpeace Italy, called the announcement "a declaration of war."

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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