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Europe

Italy Signs Deal With France for Return to Nuclear Power

Italy became the latest European country on Tuesday to embrace nuclear energy as it overturned a 21-year ban on nuclear power in the country and signed an agreement with France to build four new atomic plants.

A nuclear energy protest

Nuclear power is set to return to Italy's energy portfolio

The deal was signed Tuesday, Feb 24, during a meeting in Rome between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The pact covers research and waste treatment as well as the construction of the nuclear plants.

As part of the accord, Italian and French energy firms ENEL and EDF are to build at least four European pressurized water nuclear reactors (EPRs), the first of which is to be operational by 2020. France's EDF said it would extend its nuclear know-how to Italian company ENEL for the plants' construction.

"We need to wake up from our slumber, and adapt to a future of renewable energy and nuclear power," Berlusconi said at a joint news conference with Sarkozy.

"France, with great generosity, is opening to us. And let us recall that they can meet 80 percent of their energy needs with nuclear power, a source of clean energy using a safe system," Berlusconi said.

Sarkozy: nuclear energy key to future

A European pressurized water nuclear reactor

EPRs are considered the next generation of nuclear power plants

Sarkozy hailed the deal as "historic" and said France was prepared to offer its southern European neighbor "a limitless partnership" on nuclear energy.

"We want nuclear energy to become a European issue" because it represents "the key to development," he said at the news conference.

Italy currently relies on foreign sources -- such as Russia and Algeria -- for 87 percent of its energy needs.

Under the nuclear deal, Italy's ENEL is set to acquire a 12.5 percent share in France's second EPR, in addition to the 12.5 percent quota it already has in the country's first modern EPR.

In November 1987, Italians voted in a referendum against nuclear power stations on their country's soil. The poll came one year after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. Italy's four nuclear plants operating at that time were shut down.

Berlusconi's government has indicated the country aims to begin constructing the new nuclear power stations by 2013. ENEL said in a statement the project would progress further "when the legislative and technical process to enable a return to nuclear power in Italy is complete."

Europe increasingly opting for nuclear power

The decision taken by the Berlusconi government highlights renewed enthusiasm in some parts of Europe for nuclear energy. In early February, Sweden's ruling center-right party announced its intention to present a bill overturning a near-30-year ban on atomic plants in that country.

In Britain, the government has adopted a generally pro-nuclear stance. In January this year, the UK government gave the green light for a new generation of nuclear plants to be built in Britain.

Climate change and the need to secure long-term energy production have been cited as factors in those decisions.

Author: Darren Mara (reuters/afp/dpa)

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