The Italian Almanac

nuclear plants

Italians News - March 4

The world's worst civil nuclear disaster struck on April 25, 1986. Although it happened more than 1,000 miles (1,685 kilometers) away in what was then the Soviet Union, Chernobyl had a decisive impact on this part of the Italian coastline. Appalled at the accident, which killed 30 people immediately and caused thousands of fatal cancers, Italians voted in a referendum to scrap nuclear power -- but their political leaders are now rethinking the policy.

Today the decaying Montalto di Castro nuclear site lies in the shadow of Italy's biggest power station which burns oil and gas to produce 3,600 megawatts of electricity -- twice as much as the nuclear plant would have and enough to meet 8 percent of the country's demand. A landmark for shipping for miles out in the Mediterranean, a towering chimney emits a perpetual cloud -- a reminder of the inevitable noxious pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) output of conventional power generation.

And that is part of the reason Italy is now rethinking its ban on nuclear power. Not only does it have no fossil fuel of its own, it also faces a huge struggle to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to meet the terms of the Kyoto Protocol. If Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi wins a second term in office in elections next year, he intends to reopen the nuclear question because, he says, Italians made ''the wrong choice in the past which needs to be reconsidered''.