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>> The Manila Bulletin


The Manila Bulletin - March 15, 2011

Explosions and risk of partial core meltdown at nuclear reactors in Japan have reopened Italy's public debate on nuclear energy, which the ruling center-right government is planning to relaunch.

According to local media reports, the Senate, or the upper house of the Italian parliament, is scheduled to solidify on Tuesday a legislative decree that would establish the location and type of new nuclear reactors to be built in the country.

If approved, the plan would mark the first relaunch of nuclear power in Italy, the only nation in the G8 that has phased out production of atomic energy since a 1987 referendum, held after the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

Construction may start soon in 2013, as wished by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who expects nuclear plants to generate a quarter of the country's electricity in the future so as to reduce Italy's high dependence on energy imports, which currently account for some 80 percent of the total needs.

In response to some public criticism on the plan following the Japanese catastrophe, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that " irrational emotions do not justify a questioning of our program," adding that dozens of French plants are just a few miles from the Italian borders.

Renowned cancer specialist Umberto Veronesi mentioned an "anti- nuclear ideology based on false data," while according to chair of the Italian Nuclear Forum Chicco Testa, "data demonstrate the different sources of electric energy have created more victims in the post-war period than nuclear."

But the fear is fresh in the minds of Italians, after the country's worst earthquake since 1980 struck the central regions in 2009, killing more than 300 people and flattening a whole town in some areas.

The head of the Department of Civil Protection, Guido Bertolaso, told the newspaper Corriere della Sera that roughly 60 percent of the Italian territory is at risk of earthquake, and 25 percent of the territory is at risk of "the most severe" earthquake.

According to media reports, the left-wing opposition and environmental associations are strongly determined to block the nuclear plan through a referendum in the next months.

"We wish that the government will decide itself to stop the plan, or citizens will block this suicidal insanity through the referendum that we are promoting against the nuclear power," Antonio Di Pietro, leader of the Italy of Values opposition party, told the La Stampa newspaper.

Nichi Vendola, one of the most uniting figure on the left, together with environmental associations Greenpeace, WWF and Legambiente, called in a joint statement for the resignation of the Agency for Nuclear Safety.

"In light of what is happening in Japan, a huge question mark is projected on the Italian nuclear program," said the leader of center Alliance for Italy, Francesco Rutelli.

Senate Deputy Speaker and Radical Party leader Emma Bonino added that "investing 30 billion euros (42 billion U.S. dollars) of public money to obtain 4 percent of our final energy consumption in 20 years makes no economic sense."

"The Italian government should immediately stop nuclear folly and cease to sabotage the referendum," stressed Green Party leader Angelo Bonelli.

He said nuclear energy is "an attack on the life of present and future generations," and the Japanese incident proves how superficial are those who claim it is safe.

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