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Italy, Japan and Nuclear Safety

Castelmauro - a nuclear waste storage area in Italy

While the whole world observes Japan as it recovers from the combined effects of an earthquake, tsunami and damaged nuclear power generation plants, and calls into question the safety of nuclear power, Italy forges ahead with plans to resurrect nuclear power.

At present, Italy has no power generating facilities which use nuclear fuel. There were some, but all were closed after a referendum was held in 1987. However Italy has not been good at cleaning up what’s left of its nuclear power industry, as you will discover if you read an article I wrote about the issue after I had watched an episode Italy’s interesting and informative Report documentary programme: Worrying Report

Castelmauro - a nuclear waste storage area in Italy
Castelmauro - a nuclear waste storage area in Italy

The incidents in Japan are causing the whole world to do some serious naval gazing on the nuclear power front, but Italy contrarily has even gone so far as to state very recently that a list of potential sites for new nuclear power stations will be announced on the 23 of March 2011.

Italians seem to be somewhat divided over the nuclear issue, but the Berlusconi government seems to be extremely keen on building some nice shiny new reactors on Italy’s green and pleasant lands.

Incidentally, A recent TV ad in Italy designed to promote awareness of nuclear power issues was banned as it was considered to be too favourable towards building the plants and not presenting both sides of the matter to Italy’s population.

Admittedly, Italy’s nuclear installations, which may well be built with the help of the French, or with assistance from Berlusconi‘s Russian friends, will be the all singing, all dancing, latest generation versions. This should, in theory, mean they will be much safer than the ageing and problematic Japanese nuclear power plant which seems to be belching out quantities of radiation over a large swathe of Japan.

However, despite the relative safety of recent nuclear technology, the fact remains that Italy is prone to earthquakes. As someone on Twitter pointed out to me, earthquakes of a magnitude of 8 or 9 on the Richter scale are extremely rare in Italy. Generally, when they happen, quakes in Italy seem to be between 5.5 and 7 in terms of Richter scale magnitude, which means protecting against them should be easier.  Even so, building nuclear power facilities in any country which is prone to earthquakes does not seem to be a clever thing to do.

Then there is the mafia factor. Italy’s various mafia organised crime groups are well-known for infiltrating large scale construction projects, and using substandard materials. The thought of this happening in connection with nuclear power plants scares me, and may worry all the countries which share borders with Italy, and most of Europe, for that matter.

Mix a Richter scale 7.5 quake with a poorly constructed or defective nuclear power plant and the fallout could, literally, affect Europe.

I was extremely surprised to see that Japan has so many nuclear power plants, and was even more shocked to note that a good few of them were on the Pacific side along the coast of the main Japanese islands. This placed the plants in the direct line of destructive Tsunami waves and even if such waves only occur every so often, when they do, they wreak havoc. Japan’s people would be sleeping a lot easier, one imagines, if they did not have to worry about the possibility of impending nuclear disaster on top of everything else – and there do seem to be fears that another earthquake may strike.

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Italy should have said – enough is enough, bye bye nuclear plans, let’s reinforce our position on the renewable energy front. Italy is something of a world leader on the photovoltaic front, by the way. Or was. It might no longer be as government incentives are coming to an end.

Italy is going against the flow, well, the Berlusconi government is.

Despite the desire of Berlusconi’s crowd to build nuclear power plants in Italy (something which some people are going to make a huge amount of money out of, no doubt), at regional level, there has been a NIMBY reaction.

None of Italy’s regions want a nuclear power plant in their backyards, up to and including a number which are supposedly friendly to the current Italian government. This is causing headaches for the pro-nuclear crowd and some embarrassment for Italy’s government.

I Don’t Like Nuclear Power Generation

Why? For the following reasons:

  • Radiation is harmful and we have yet to discover a way of completely neutralising its effects.

I am not a scientist though, so my reaction comes from my gut and from hearing about nuclear bombs being dropped on cities in Japan. There are, however, scientists who maintain that nuclear power is actually safer than coal fired electricity generation plants, and, potentially, even safer than hydro-electric plants. Bernard L. Cohen, Sc.D., a Professor at the University of Pittsburgh, published an interesting document on the Risks of Nuclear Power

  • Nuclear bombs are terrifying devices – here’s a YouTube video of the largest ever, known, atmospheric test of a nuclear bomb – Russia’s 50 plus megaton Tzar Bomba:


Many of us, I believe, think nuclear power plants can end up becoming devastating nuclear bombs.

  • The half-life of radioactive materials can be incredibly long – from a few years to decades and even centuries.
  • The security concerns are too high.
  • Safety is an issue which has to be attended to round the clock.
  • Nuclear plants are expensive and potentially not environmentally friendly.
  • The storage of spent nuclear fuels is expensive and risky from both safety and security perspectives.

Why Shouldn’t Italy be Allowed Nuclear Power Plants?

  • Earthquakes and volcanoes.
  • Levels of corruption are very high in Italy – just speak to most high ranking Italian judges. This could pose both safety and security risks.
  • The mafia is still far too powerful – even Bank of Italy governor Mario Draghi is concerned about mafia infiltration into northern Italian businesses and politics.
  • Italy has not yet managed to clean up after its previous foray into the world of nuclear power generation.
  • Italy cannot even manage to sort out trash crises – can you imagine how it would cope with a nuclear crisis?
  • Italy’s government is not transparent enough. It is always trying to silence chat show programmes, newspapers and even bloggers. Just imagine how open it would be about a potential nuclear crisis?
  • Italians are panicky – a nuclear crisis may well cause mayhem in Italy.
  • Italy has plenty of sun, and can generate cleaner more risk-free solar power generation.

What do you think? Is nuclear power safer than many us tend to believe or is it a liability?  Are we all just ignorant and paranoid about the risks of nuclear power?

Should Italy be allowed to build nuclear power plants?

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