Italians have voted overwhelmingly against a return to nuclear power in a national referendum, repealing legislation allowing the construction of new reactors.
According to World Nuclear News, 54.79 per cent of citizens participated, and 94.05 per cent of these voted against the construction of any new nuclear reactors in Italy.
The poll held on 12 and 13 June included three questions besides nuclear; one concerned the so-called "legitimate impediment" that allows ministers to skip trial hearings against them if they are on government business, which critics of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi say is for his personal benefit by possibly delaying his four concurrent trials. Two others concerned the privatization of water utilities.
Berlusconi said: "Following the decision the Italian people…we must say goodbye to the possibility of nuclear power stations and we must strongly commit ourselves to renewable energy."
The head of Italy's Nuclear Safety Agency, Umberto Veronesi, said: "I am satisfied by the voter turnout which is a sign of strong civil participation and this is a good sign for the country, and I bow to the will of the people with respects to a negative decision on nuclear energy.
"However I do feel personally that it is a grave error to confront our future energy insufficiency without the possibility of nuclear power... I am afraid that Italian research, which has been concentrating on nuclear fusion, will halt and we all know that without research there is no future. My fear is that Italy will finish as a tourist appendix to the advanced world," he said.
His comments were echoed by Chicco Testa, chair of the Forum Nucleare Italiano, a non-profit consortia of nuclear research bodies and enterprises. "We acknowledge with respect the opinion of voters expressed through the referendum.
"However an energy strategy that can respond to the needs of future scenarios remains necessary for the country, looking particularly at savings in energy efficiency. Italy needs to continue to monitor research and development in the use of nuclear technology with a view to modernization and increased competitiveness," he said.
Italy's previous nuclear power plants were all shut down following a referendum in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl accident - a move that was described in 2008 as a '50 billion Euro mistake' by then economic minister Claudio Scajola. The latest referendum outcome will not affect decommissioning work on those retired nuclear sites, nor the search for a national repository for radioactive waste.