Italy Freezes Its Nuclear Plan

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"Upcoming elections prompt conservative government to slow its push to re-introduce nuclear power."

European leaders meet in Brussels Thursday with the nuclear disaster in Japan very much on their minds. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for the European Union to have common safety standards for nuclear power plants, but agreement will be difficult.

On Monday, energy ministers could not even agree on how and when to conduct stress tests on European nuclear plants. Reactions to the Fukushima accident have differed sharply across Europe.

In Italy, fear of losing upcoming local elections has forced the conservative government to slow its push to re-introduce nuclear power. Rome is calling for a one-year moratorium on nuclear power but anti-nuclear activists say it's just a ploy to buy time.

Next month marks the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster in history. A year later, in 1987, Italians overwhelmingly voted against nuclear energy in a nationwide referendum. Italy's four nuclear power stations were shut down.

Two years ago, the conservative government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced that Italy would go nuclear again. Then came the Japanese tsunami.

Thousands of people gathered in a Roman square last weekend for an anti-nuclear rally.

There are already 143 reactors in the European Union—some of which are obsolete. Many demonstrators voiced concerns over the safety of several reactors built by the Soviets in former communist countries.

Leoluca Orlando, a member of the opposition Italy of Values party, said the problem is the European Union's failure to forge a common policy on nuclear energy.

"We demonstrated it's possible just to abolish in one day the German currency, the French currency, the Italian currency and to build the euro," Orlando says. "But we are today a European Union of bankers. We need to be a European Union of citizens. It is a long way to reach this point."

Listen to the story on Morning Edition (3/23/11)

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