Behind the nuclear resurgence

Italy’s utility Enel and Electricité de France  have formally announced their joint venture to look at building four new nuclear plants in Italy, more than two decades after the country voted against new nuclear power:

The new venture, known as Sviluppo Nucleare Italia, will be based in Rome and follows the signing of an agreement between the heads of government of the two countries in February to restart nuclear power production in Italy.

Fulvio Conti, Enel’s chief executive, said the venture “lays the ground for a concrete comeback of the nuclear [industry] in Italy”.

The country ended nuclear power production at home after a referendum in 1987 – a year after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine – opting to import nuclear-generated energy from France.

The nuclear revival is going on all over Europe. Finland in 2005 began building the first new reactor to be agreed since the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

Sweden has reversed its ban on new nuclear reactors, paving the way to replace its 10 existing reactors.

Spain last month granted a four-year reprieve to the country’s oldest reactor, despite a promise to phase out nuclear power.

The UK government expects a number of new nuclear plants to be built – but EDF, which owns the country’s biggest nuclear generator, says it needs government money.

In France, of course, nuclear has long been a major source of electricity.

Carbon emissions are often cited as reasons for the resurgence in nuclear’s popularity in Europe. It’s not just as a way of meeting greenhouse gas emission goals, however. There are growing fears over security of natural gas supplies, after Russia several times in the past few years cut off supply. Meanwhile the entry of countries such as Lithuania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union has shifted the prevailing views in Brussels. And it must be something of a factor that public opposition has faded after more than two decades without another Chernobyl-style disaster.

Related links:

European nuclear industry in grip of revival (FT, 02/07/09)

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