The leaders of Italy and France signed an agreement on Tuesday to cooperate on nuclear energy, paving the way for Italy’s return to nuclear power after more than two decades.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed the deal in front of TV cameras after talks in Rome. Italians decided to close the country’s nuclear energy program in a 1987 referendum after the Chernobyl disaster.
But the Berlusconi government has said it wants to restart one.
“We must wake up from this sleep ... and begin the construction of Italian nuclear power plants,” Berlusconi said at a joint news conference, maintaining that nuclear energy is clean and safe to produce.
France will help Italy through a deal that includes technological cooperation, capital and training.
“France proposes an unlimited partnership, we want to develop clean energy with you,” Sarkozy said.
He also warned that nuclear power and renewable energy sources — like wind and sun — must both be developed if Europe will meet its targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
The deal is accompanied by two memorandums of understanding between power giants EdF of France and Enel of Italy.
Both companies plan to build together at least four nuclear plants in Italy, with the first scheduled to enter service by 2020.
The reactors would be the so-called third generation European Pressurized Reactor or EPR variety, which is meant to eventually replace aging reactors around the world whose designs date from decades ago.
EdF is building one in Flamanville in Normandy, in which Enel owns a 12.5 percent stake. By a separate agreement Tuesday, Enel will take an identical-sized stake in the second EPR reactor that EdF is to build at Penly in Normandy.
Italy’s plan is likely to face opposition by the center-left opposition and environmentalists who are opposed to reintroducing nuclear energy in Italy.
“Our country does not need to re-enter the nuclear program,” opposition lawmaker Roberto Dalla Seta told SkyTG24. “Our country should instead invest on clean energy and efficiency.”
Italy gets much of its oil and gas from Russia and north African countries including Libya. Solar energy has been slow to take off, while wind energy has made some inroads.