Italy has proposed a halt to its plans for developing nuclear power, with the government saying it wanted to develop "a new national energy strategy" in the wake of the crisis in Japan, reports Associated Press.
"Until we have more scientific evidence, plans concerning the location, construction and use of nuclear power stations will not go ahead," the government said in an amendment to a one-year moratorium declared in March.
Italy declared a temporary moratorium on its nuclear plans after the catastrophe in Japan, though Italians are still set to vote in a June referendum on whether to continue with plans to build atomic power stations.
Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani said a new Italian energy strategy spanning the next 20 years would be set out later this year. "The decision to abolish legal measures for the construction of nuclear power stations is perfectly in line with the strategies announced by countries like Germany, the United States, Japan and Russia," Romani said.
"It's important to continue and look to the future, using the best technologies available on the market for the production of clean energy, particularly in the field of renewables and green energy," he said. But some officials said that the proposal did not mean Italy would completely abandon its nuclear programme - a key part of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's manifesto in his 2008 election victory.
As the extent of Japan's nuclear crisis became clear, Berlusconi said last week he was considering extending the moratorium, because "one year will not be long enough to reassure Italians" that the nuclear option is safe. While analysts mulled whether the new amendment could see Italy turn away from nuclear for good, critics accused the government of plotting to wriggle out of the referendum and return to atomic energy once the moratorium expires.
"It's the umpteenth government hoax," said Antonio Di Pietro, head of the opposition Italy of Values party, who claimed the measure was aimed solely at undermining the June referendum on nuclear power.
"This amendment only says that the selection of sites has been postponed. Let's not play clever dicks. It's clear the executive has realised the referendum is lost," he said.
Greenpeace Italy director Giuseppe Onufrio said the amendment was an "unacceptable trick to try to gain time... to avoid letting Italians express themselves in a referendum and to then bring nuclear up again in a year."
Italy's parliament in 2008 adopted a bill that opened the way to construction of atomic power stations from 2014 to cut the price of electricity bills and make Italy less dependent on energy imports.
Italy hoped to produce a quarter of its electricity with atomic energy by 2030 but Italians are largely against the idea. A poll by the Ipsos institute in March found that almost 90 per cent of the population would prefer to invest in renewable energy.
Asked about the prospect of Italy abandoning nuclear power, the head of Italian energy giant Enel, Fulvio Conti, said earlier that the company would use "more coal and more renewables".
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