Italy Joins the Nuclear Thaw

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"The nuclear reactors that are to be constructed in Italy are 'European pressurized reactors (EPR),' or as they are often designated 'third generation' (Gen 3) equipment, where the emphasis is on safety."

In l987—following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster—Italy voted to abandon nuclear, and a similar gesture was made by the people of Sweden about the same time. According to the (UK) Financial Times (February 24, 2009), Italy's "relatively advanced nuclear capacity was (immediately) mothballed or dismantled." Fortunately though, Sweden specified 2010 as the date for dismantlement, because over the last decade Swedish nuclear energy—together with hydro—has provided this country (Sweden) with perhaps the lowest cost electricity in the world, and until the curse of electric deregulation appeared, the price was also among the lowest in the world.

The new Italian facilities are scheduled to be constructed by ENEL, with the cooperation of Electricité de France, who played a key role in the design of the reactors to be installed. This equipment will not make its appearance in Italy in the very near future though, and in fact if there is a serious nuclear accident near that country, it may never come into existence. But given the nuclear renaissance that is gaining momentum in Europe and elsewhere, a change in Italy's nuclear plans will hardly be noticed. According to the German firm Siemens, at least 400 new reactors will be deployed globally by 2030. Moreover, several years ago, Mr. Vladimir Spidla, the Czech prime minister at the time, visited Finland, and among things he said that while Finland was the only country in Europe that displayed intentions to build an advanced nuclear facility, "soon almost all will join it."

Because of the ostensible "need" to rebuild its nuclear safety authority, and to identify sites for the new installations, the first new Italian reactor may not be in operation until 2020—or even later. The important thing in Italy and elsewhere is that preparations are made to construct this equipment before the price of oil and gas goes into orbit, which many observers now believe could happen sooner rather than later.

The nuclear reactors that are to be constructed in Italy are 'European pressurized reactors (EPR),' or as they are often designated 'third generation' (Gen 3) equipment, where the emphasis is on safety. (Safety with this equipment means that if control systems stop working, the reactor shuts down automatically, dissipates the heat produced by the reactions in its core, and stops both fuel and radioactive waste from escaping.) Unless I am mistaken, it makes sense for Italy not to hurry their new project, because while things might go smoothly if these reactors were being constructed in France, or even China, there could be problems of a cultural nature in Italy, where ENEL and EDF must coordinate their efforts in order to meet deadlines and keep costs under control.

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