Italy to reverse policy and build nuclear power stations: minister

23 May 2008 - The Italian government said Thursday it would begin building nuclear power stations, reversing a 20-year ban in an initiative likely to spark strong resistance and take a long time to come to fruition.

"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," Economic Development Minister Claudio Scajola told the Italian employers' federation Confindustria.

"We can no longer avoid an action plan for a return to nuclear power," he said, recalling a campaign pledge by Italy's newly named right-wing prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, to take such a step. "Only nuclear power stations can produce energy on a large scale, in a secure way at competitive costs and one that respects the environment."

A decision to abandon nuclear power was taken in a 1987 referendum following the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986. The country's four nuclear plants operating at the time were shut down.

But Confindustria head Emma Marcegaglia said the time has now come "to invest in nuclear energy" as the country has become too dependent on foreign sources of oil and gas.

Following the Confindustria meeting, Fulvio Conti, head of Italy's principal power group Enel, said his company was "technically ready" to take part in the initiative, the Ansa news agency reported.

"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 said. The Italian government controls a 30 percent stake in Enel. Conti last month said it would likely take "seven to 10 years for a new nuclear generator to come online."

Italy has suffered occasional power shortages in recent years, due in part to problems with its electricity distribution network.

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