ROME Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi hopes to revive plans to relaunch Italy's nuclear energy sector in one or two years, he said on Tuesday after the government last week shelved plans to allow the construction of new plants.
Following mounting public concern over safety in the wake of the disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor, the government scrapped plans for a referendum called previously to win public approval for new reactors.
"If we had held the referendum, we would have had to abandon nuclear energy for a long time," Berlusconi said at a news conference on Tuesday.
"But I hope that in one or two years we can return to the option after we have more clarity on the technology."
He said that contracts drawn up between Italian utility Enel and France's EDF would not be canceled. The firms have said they want to press ahead with joint plans to start building nuclear power plants in Italy in 2013.
Italy, in a seismically active area with a long history of destructive earthquakes, had already announced a one-year moratorium on its nuclear plans.
Last week, the government took proposed measures, which would have covered the siting, design and construction of new plants, out of a decree that would have been subject to a referendum in June if the measures had been included.
Speaking on the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, Berlusconi also reaffirmed his hopes that nuclear power would play an important role in Italy's future energy supply.
Before the disaster in Japan, the prime minister had said he hoped atomic plants could generate a quarter of electricity requirements in Italy. The country relies almost entirely on foreign imports of oil and natural gas.
In 1987, the Italian public voted to reject nuclear energy after the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. Environmental groups and several opposition politicians had called on the public to do the same before the plans were scrapped last week.