Feb 24 (Reuters) - Europe’s nuclear energy leader France and Italy signed on Tuesday an agreement to cooperate in nuclear energy, which Rome rejected in a vote more than 20 years ago after the Chernobyl disaster [ID:nLO637203].
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government has been calling for a nuclear revival since he returned to power in April 2008, but needs to overcome public opposition.
Below are further details about nuclear energy in Italy:
* Italy voted in a referendum in November 1987 to shut existing nuclear plants and impose a moratorium on new ones, after the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986. Italy is the only one of the Group of Eight industrialised nations without nuclear power.
* Italy does not need a new referendum to lift the existing ban but the Economic Development Ministry would need to issue a decree -- which would later have to be passed as a law -- to scrap the moratorium, energy experts say.
* Italy, with scant energy resources, wants to diversify supplies and ease its 80-85 percent dependence on fuel imports. Supporters say it needs to relaunch nuclear energy to ease its dependence on fuel imports, boost energy security and trim power prices -- among the highest in Europe.
Nuclear energy would help Italy cut emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) and catch up with Europe’s efforts to fight climate change.
* The government wants to build between eight and 10 new-generation nuclear reactors in Italy and aims to start building the first one in 2013.
* Italy's biggest power utility, Enel ENEI.MI, said it would be ready to take part in the nuclear revival in Italy. Rival Edison EDN.MI, which is part owned by France's nuclear power giant EDF EDF.PA, is also keen.
Enel used to own all four nuclear power stations with a total capacity of about 1,400 megawatts before the ban. It had to turn to projects abroad, including in France and Slovakia.
Germany's E.ON AG EONGn.DE and Italian unlisted utility Sorgenia are interested in participating in new nuclear projects in Italy but only if there is a clear regulatory framework.
* Public opposition to any big industrial project is strong in Italy where local authorities have a final say in a lengthy process of allowing projects on their turf.
They have blocked construction of a liquefied natural gas import plant in the southern port of Brindisi despite government backing for the project.
* Opponents say there are no suitable sites in Italy for building new power stations and storing nuclear waste; the construction and decommissioning costs are too high and there is still a considerable risk of accidents.
* The government wants private investors to bankroll the nuclear revival, but the downturn has made it difficult.
* The total cost of closing the nuclear sector has been estimated at 5.2 billion euros ($6.63 billion). Nuclear decommissioning company Sogin aims to complete its task in 2024.
For a FACTBOX on France’s nuclear power [ID:nLN493867] ($1=.7848 Euro)
Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova
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