MILAN, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Simmering debate of a nuclear energy relaunch in Italy, banned 20 years ago in a referendum, got a fresh boost on Wednesday with the news that major utilities were to draft a plan to build nuclear power stations.
A newly created think tank Energy Lab, which includes experts from leading Italian utilities A2A (A2.MI) and Edison EDN.MI, will soon start a feasibility study to build at least three or four nuclear power plants in Italy, a source familiar with the situation said, confirming a report in Il Sole 24 Ore.
“We should start thinking now about what will happen in 10-15 years... If Italy decides to relaunch the nuclear, it would make sense only if it covered about 10 percent of internal needs,” the source said.
Italy banned nuclear power after the 1987 referendum in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.
Calls for a nuclear renaissance have intensified in recent years as Italy, with scant energy resources, seeks to diversify supplies and ease dependence on fuel imports.
The feasibility study would be presented to Italy’s Economic Development Minister Pierluigi Bersani who oversees energy issues and has said in the past that current conditions did not permit a nuclear relaunch in Italy.
On Wednesday, Bersani reiterated his stance that Italy should actively participate in international scientific research in new generation nuclear power but stopped short of throwing his weight behind the new plan.
“We want to be among the leading players in the new generation nuclear research. I believe it’s the right thing for us,” he told reporters when asked about the feasibility study.
Italian energy sector leaders, including Umberto Quadrino, CEO of Edison which is controlled by the French nuclear power giant EDF (EDF.PA), have recently been pushing for lifting the 20-year ban to meet the growing power demand and trim emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels.
But even supporters of the nuclear energy relaunch say if the ban was lifted it would take 10-15 years to build a nuclear plant in Italy, given lengthy permitting procedures.
Some experts are even more sceptical, pointing at public hostility to any big industrial project and lack of investors in such long-term projects.
“In Italy we have a culture of distrust of modern technologies, in industrialisation,” said Davide Tabarelli, president of think tank Nomisma Energia.
“There is a strong negative attitude towards any industrial project -- be it a regasification terminal, an incinerator or a waste dump, let alone a nuclear plant... It is impossible to relaunch nuclear in this country,” Tabarelli said. (Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova; editing by James Jukwey)