Monday, June 13, 2011

Italy kills the nuclear demon

The result of the Italian national referendum on nuclear energy are out. As I am writing, the data are not yet official, but it seems certain that the votes against nuclear energy were about 95% of the total (*). A landslide, if ever there was one! It is a disaster for the nuclear industry that is sure to have consequences on nuclear policy even outside Italy.

There will be time for a detailed analysis of the vote, for political considerations, and for thinking of future scenarios. One thing is certain, however: nuclear energy has come a long way from the time, half a century ago, when it was hailed as the solution to all of humankind's problems.

The debate on this referendum was extremely polarized from the beginning. Mostly, detractors presented nuclear energy as dangerous and unreliable and voters seem to have seen the problem in these terms. The choice was seen as black and white, good vs. evil, demons against angels.

But, if the downfall of nuclear energy generates the return of coal as a replacement, then who is the demon and who is the angel is a debatable point.

(*) Final results: Against nukes: 94.1%, for nukes: 5.9%


  1. Reason is the thing getting out of the window these days, even if the top, prime, number 1 priority should be to consume less energy (amongst other things).

  2. The answer is simple: none of the options is viable. We should stop burning things, we wild, childish creatures. Let's create the no-burn party.

    Of course the question is where are we going to get our electricity from. As a matter of fact, we are just anticipating the debate a few decades before the exhausted tails of oil, coal, gas and uranium will make their exploitation at large scale impossible.

    But as for Italy, it seems to me that the vote is largely a reaction induced by Fukushima and against Il Cavaliere. Get Berlusconi out of the office and let a new government pose the question back, and the answer is probably going to be a different, more balanced one.


  3. I hope you are right, Antonio; that we are going to have a better government once Berlusconi is out. But I am not optimistic on that. It seems to me that we are mixing politics and policy - two completely different matters. Now, voters seem to be fed up with Berlusconi; probably for good reasons. But that was the political reason of the landslide, which had little to do with energy policy.

    There was no debate on the real reasons for a change on energy policy, the need to stop burning things. On the contrary, opponents of nuclear power strongly based their position on the fact that we have "plenty of gas" - so that there is no need for nuclear.

    Then, everything may rapidly change again. The public attitude swings rapidly from one side to the other; this is what we call "bipolarism" and it is supposed to be part of the concept of "democracy". In my opinion, it is total disaster. We can't do anything good if one side takes over from the other and then proceeds to destroy what the previous government had done.

    So, we seem to be stumbling blindly towards the future, hitting head on every obstacle we find. It does not bid well.

  4. It's of course bad for Climate Change if this results in more CO2 emissions, but at least Italy is a somewhat seismically active country, as far as I know. So considering the disaster in Japan which resulted from a seismic event, it's not that strange a decision in my opinion.

    Personally I live in seismically stable Finland and support nuclear power in seismically stable locations.

  5. Correction : Italy didn't vote against nuclear energy, it voted against domestic production of nuclear energy. As far as I know, buying it from neighbors is still OK. Same thing with the Germans by the way.

  6. Oh, well, FES, if you want to be really precise about what Italian voters voted on, they voted to abolish a law that abolished a previous law which had enacted a series of rules which might have led to the construction of a number of nuclear plants, provided that the necessary money could be found.

    It is THAT complicated and, theoretically, the result of the referendum doesn't prevent the government from going on with a new nuclear program. It is the political significance of the vote that counts.

  7. Concerning buying nuclear-origin electricity (for Germany and for Italy) the key point is: from where? France announces restrictions in electricity usage this summer because of the drought; in fact, they count on Spain, Germany and Italy for their imports!!!

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  9. Sure that you can ask! I voted, but I left the ballot blank.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" to be published by Springer in mid 2017