Italy plans one-year pause on nuclear power

ROME Tue Mar 22, 2011 1:52pm EDT

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government will announce a one-year moratorium on site selection and building of nuclear power plants following the crisis at a Japanese plant, Industry Minister Paolo Romani said on Tuesday.

"Tomorrow the cabinet will announce the declaration of a one-year moratorium on procedures for installing and identifying nuclear sites," Romani told reporters at the margins of a Senate hearing.

The government said last week it needed time to reflect on plans to relaunch its nuclear power sector in light of the accident at the Japanese atomic plant triggered by an earthquake and tsunami.

Earthquake-prone Italy is the only Group of Eight industrialized nation that does not produce nuclear power, but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said he hopes atomic plants can generate a quarter of Italy's electricity in the future.

The Japanese accident has reignited concerns about nuclear safety in Italy, where atomic power was rejected by a public vote in 1987 following the Chernobyl disaster.

A national vote on the construction of new nuclear plants is due to be held by mid-June.

"A moratorium could be the way to allow more time for reflection and disperse the negative climate of the moment," a source said earlier on Tuesday.

A cabinet meeting to discuss changes to Italy's nuclear power measures is scheduled for Wednesday.

Another source noted that the moratorium would not necessarily hold up all procedures for relaunching the sector.

Italy's biggest utility, Enel said last week it wants to press ahead with its nuclear power production plans.

It wants to start building nuclear power stations in Italy together with French power giant EDF in 2013.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio and Giselda Vagnoni; writing by Catherine Hornby; editing by James Jukwey)