The Italian Almanac

nuclear submarines at Santo Stefano

Nuclear Base Dismissed

The American flag was lowered for the last time at the United States Navy nuclear submarine base on the island of Santo Stefano, in the Maddalena archipelago off northern Sardinia. The base was set up by a secret accord in the depths of the Cold War and officially opened on January 1, 1973. It was to provide support for nuclear submarines as well as ships in the US Navy's IV Fleet and NATO ships.

On hand for the flag-lowering ceremony were a host of local residents, the mayor of La Maddalena and other local officials. During the ceremony, US commander Gregory Billy thanked the Italian Navy for is cooperation over the past 35 years and made special mention of five Italian employees who had worked at the base from the beginning. The base had been home to 2,600 Americans including military personnel, civilian employees and their families. Some 50 Americans will remain at the base to oversee its definitive shutting down, which is scheduled to take place on February 25.

The Pentagon decided to withdraw from the base in 2005 and in May 2006 Sardinia Governor Renato Soru and US Ambassador to Italy Ronald Spogli met to starting hammering out the details. At the time, the American ambassador said ''We've been on La Maddalena for more than 30 years and it's been a very positive experience, But the international situation has changed, of course, and now it's time to move on. The important thing is that we'll be leaving La Maddalena in the same positive and friendly manner in which we arrived,'' he added.

Soru, a former dotcom magnate who created Tiscali, was one of many local and national officials who had campaigned for the subs to go because of environmental fears. The campaign to close the base gained momentum in January 2004 when a French research institute found that the waters near the base were four times more radioactive than would usually be expected.

The La Maddalena archipelago is part of a wildlife and sea reserve along with the nearby island of Caprera - the retirement hideaway of famed Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi.