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Italy Freezes Its Nuclear Plan After Japan Crisis

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Italy Freezes Its Nuclear Plan After Japan Crisis


Italy Freezes Its Nuclear Plan After Japan Crisis

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And now were going to hear about more global effects of the crisis at the Japanese nuclear plant. Countries around the world have been reassessing their nuclear power programs. That includes, as we've been reporting, the countries of Europe.

Italy's government is calling for a one-year moratorium on nuclear power, as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Next month marks the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. A year later, in 1987, Italians overwhelmingly voted against nuclear energy in a nationwide referendum, and Italy's four nuclear power stations were shut down.

But two years ago, the conservative government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that Italy would go nuclear again. Then came the Japanese tsunami.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

POGGIOLI: Thousands of people gathered in a Roman square this weekend for an anti-nuclear rally. A speaker on the stage said Italy is the only European country whose environment minister is pro-nuclear energy. There are already 143 reactors in the European Union, some of which are obsolete. And many demonstrators voiced concerns over the safety of several reactors built by the Soviets in former communist countries. Leoluca Orlando, a member of the opposition Italy of Values Party, said the problem is the European Union's failure to forge a common policy on nuclear energy.

LEOLUCA ORLANDO: We demonstrated it's possible just to abolish, in one day, the German currency, the French currency, the Italian currency, and to build the euro. But we are, today, in the European Union of bankers. We need to be a European Union of citizens. It is a long way to reach this point.

POGGIOLI: Right after the Fukishima disaster, industry minister Paolo Romani voiced the government's determination to go ahead with its nuclear power program.

PAOLO ROMANI: (Through translator) Nineteen percent of our energy sources come from nuclear-fueled power stations in neighboring countries. Since we already take advantage of nuclear energy, it is unimaginable that we should retreat from the path we have undertaken.

POGGIOLI: But many polls suggest the majority of Italians feel otherwise. Fukishima has revived their Chernobyl nightmares. Italo Cerboni restores antique furniture. He says nuclear energy is obsolete and dangerous.

ITALO CERBONI: (Through translator) Besides, we have mafias that dispose of toxic waste illegally. Just think what they'll do with nuclear waste. I can't help but suspect that behind all this love of nuclear energy, there are lobbyists - speculators, politicians and the mafia.

POGGIOLI: Since the 1987 anti-nuclear referendum, Italy has still not disposed all of its nuclear waste. It also abandoned nuclear research - now lacking know-how and technicians. Last year, only 75 Italians got degrees in nuclear physics, compared to 300 in 1987. Environmentalists and others opposed to nuclear energy also point out that Italy is highly-prone to earthquakes. There have been seven quakes over magnitude six in the last 100 years.

Meanwhile, this Mediterranean country is far behind Germany in using solar power. Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist Carlo Rubbia says Italy should reflect carefully on the security risks involved with nuclear energy.

CARLO RUBBIA: (Through translator): We must acknowledge that renewable energy sources are an alternative. Like oil and coal, uranium is limited. But the sun is ours, and it's forever.

POGGIOLI: While German environmentalists, backed by the chancellor of nuclear- free Austria, are gathering signatures to demand EU-wide legislation on nuclear power. On June 12th, Italians will get another chance to have their say in new referendum on nuclear power in their country.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.



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