Italians Vote to End the Use of Nuclear Power in Landmark Referendum

by , 06/14/11

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The Fukushima nuclear meltdown has had an incredible impact upon international energy policy as Germany, Switzerland, and Japan officially declared government efforts to phase-out nuclear power. Now Italy may be the next nation to follow suit, as a referendum voted upon by 57% of its population opted to abandon the use of nuclear energy.

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The country hasn’t seen a voter turnout higher than 50% since 1995 – this recent surge in participation is indicative of the nation’s tumultuous political climate. The decision to phase out nuclear power was part of a four-pronged policy change proposal drafted by Italy’s center-left opposition parties. Of the 57% voter turnout, 95% voted against nuclear power on each referendum – hopefully a considerable chunk of those who voted were motivated by a desire to transition to renewables.

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  1. Bebe June 22, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Of course, Edward Teller promoted the use of thorium in liquid sodium reactors 60 years ago…not that anyone in the U.S. listened. Taiwan has experimented for many years, and India has an operational LSR plus a large stock of thorium. One can see the States importing a system from India. Still, for the Europeans I guess the “horror” of nuclear power trumps all those formerly oh-so nasty greenhouse gas issues LOL.

  2. lazyreader June 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

    *TYPO* sorry I meant to say the barrier would pose no threat to the environment.

  3. Cliff Champion June 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    @shadaib & @Simone

    Thank you so much for the clarifications… I mentioned that the Italians had abandoned nuclear energy after Chernobyl, but perhaps I needed to mention that the recent moratorium and referendum concerned Berlusconi’s plans to revive the nuclear program… not an existing and function nuclear program. It’s great to hear that the Italian people have decided to make their voices heard in such a positive way. Thanks for reading!



  4. lazyreader June 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Without the loan guarantees and the subsidies nuclear power in the market would dry up almost entirely. Just like the capital intensive renewable power. Now I support nuclear, I just don’t want to subsidize it. If a private provider can do it, why shouldn’t they. Nuclear may very well be the only significant way to provide vast quantities of energy that we need. Solar and wind are very niche. Because nuclear is such a high density fuel, you get enormous amounts of energy just from a little uranium. A pound of uranium generates as much energy as 900 tons of coal.

    China is adding currently 100 gigawatts of coal fired electricity a year and other countries are soon following in it’s footsteps. We rich people of the planet can’t stop the other 6.5 billion people from burning the tons of carbon fuels they have within easy reach. Let alone make a dent in global emissions. They involve too much involvement by very poor people that can’t easily change their ways. And those poor people are also components to the global economy. And if we are dumb enough to let carbon fears send our jobs to their shores and they’ll grow even faster and carbon emissions would grow faster still. We will never be able to force those people to leave their coal, oil, and minerals in the ground. It’s too valuable. It’s all they have, they’ll drill it, dig it, find a market for it and we’ll burn it. Those poor countries have easy access to trillions of tons of coal and oil and access to the other carbon sinks, the rainforests. They will squeeze it like a sponge and do it cheap unless something cheaper comes along and that’s gonna take a lot of ingenuity. Those poor people control the carbon and are responsible for most of it. The rich burn more individually, but those billions of poor have a lot more children. And the poor countries have made it clear they are the least bit interested in spending for a low ‘carb-on’ diet. It’s whether or not the markets can give us something cheaper than carbon fuels. Renewable energy is typically too low in energy density. Windmills today are as tall as 50 story skyscrapers with blade diameters wider than a 747′s wingspan, yet generates a miniscule 2 or 3 megawatts. ou get the same power from a diesel generator that could fit in your walk in closet. A Boeing 747 needs over a hundred megawatts to stay in the air. Google is building 100 megawatt servers and data centers just to move your emails around. Simply being able to meet New York Citys energy needs would require nearly 50 thousand windmills spinning at full speed around the clock, scattered across the state because you need more that’s needed to make sure they’ll be in the windy spots at any given day. What the hell was the mayor Bloomberg thinking when he said you could just tuck them into Manhattan. There would be no room for actual buildings. These energy sources are very dilute. Look at Moores Law which shows how efficiency, speed and power of solid state electronics improves each year and the costs are cut in nearly in half. Renewable technologies are not moving down in the declining cost curves we would see with laptops and cell phones. When you replace conventional with renewable, the devices get bigger not smaller and costs rise instead of decline. Jobs will just go to where energy is cheap because industry and factories require vast sums of energy, you can’t compete when your paying 3 times as much for energy to make various products. Green jobs means Americans paying other Americans to chase carbon around while the rest of the world is building power plants and factories where the rest of the world is less efficient and less careful. Those poor countries will not trade 3 cent coal for 15 cent wind or 30 cent solar and trying to force those expensive technologies on other desperately poor nations. According to the International Energy Agency has shown that investment in renewables has gone down not up. But the price you have to beat is 3 cent coal. And even coal is getting more efficient. 50 years ago it took 10 pounds of coal to run a light bulb for 1.5 hours. Today we do the same thing for less than half a pound. The technology for reducing costs in renewable energy may very well reduce the costs of conventional power. They may end up bringing costs down to 2 cents. Geothermal power holds promise to deliver power cheaply and unlike wind and solar is not affected heavily by weather conditions. However with near one-third failure ratios even in geologically active areas, it’s a risky capital venture to just drill for a hot spot let alone how long it will last. The famous Geysers plant in California lost nearly half it’s original power output due to natural steam depletion. Now they have to pump waste water from neighboring counties to provide steam.

    We must bite the bullet and unleash the nuclear genie or at least enhance research to make reactor tech an affordable asset in the near future. Nuclear waste is a manageable affair. It’s not waste it’s spent fuel (of which only less than 4 percent is waste), most of which is still useful uranium that is just too hot to use now. The risk of plutonium proliferation is mute when you consider the nations that do it already have it. Deep bore holes thousands of meters underground hold key to storing actual waste indefinitely. Once you drill the hole and deposit the waste, you fill it back up with the material you drilled. The thickness of the natural barrier of kilometers of rock will safely isolate the waste from the biosphere for a very long period of time posing a threat to the environment. The deep borehole concept can be applied to any amount of waste. For countries that do not rely on nuclear power plants, their entire inventory of high-level nuclear waste could perhaps be disposed of in a single borehole. Even the spent fuel generated from a single large nuclear power plant operating for multiple decades could be disposed of in fewer than ten boreholes. Another attraction of the deep borehole option is that holes might be drilled and waste emplaced using modifications of existing oil and gas drilling technologies. The environmental impact is small. The waste handling facility at the wellhead, plus a temporary security buffer zone, would require about one square kilometer of land. When the borehole is filled and finally sealed, the land can be returned to a natural condition.

  5. shadaib June 15, 2011 at 7:42 am

    To clarify, Italy does not have any running nuclear reactors having phased out decades ago. But the government was planning to return to nuclear power use which is what voters have now stopped.

  6. bellaciao June 14, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    Cliff, in Italia dopo Chernobyl c’è stato un referendum, e a seguito di questo referendum si è deciso di abbandonare il nucleare e di dismettere le centrali esistenti. Il 13 06 11 abbiamo votato non per chiudere le centrali, ma per non intraprendere di nuovo la strada del nucleare (e anche per impedire la privatizzazione dell’acqua, e per consentire alla magistratura di processare Berlusconi per i fatti di cui è indagato: corruzione, sfruttamento della prostituzione minorile, etc.).

    Simone Martini

    P.S. Una volta che Berlusconi si sarà dimesso, o comunque sarà finita la sua legislatura… in Italia torneranno a governare comunisti e socialisti, e quando verrà quel giorno ricominceremo ad investire in gas metano e soprattutto in rinnovabili e coibentazione.

    Cliff, in Italy after Chernobyl there was a referendum, and as a result of this
    referendum it was decided to abandon nuclear power plants and disposing
    exist. On 13 06 11 we voted not to close plants, but not
    take again the road of nuclear power (and also to prevent
    privatization of water, and to enable the judiciary to prosecute
    Berlusconi to the facts of the investigation: corruption, exploitation of
    child prostitution, etc.)..

    Simone Martini

    P.S. Once that Berlusconi will resign, or at least will be the end of his
    term … Italy will return to rule in communist and socialist, and when
    that day will resume investing in natural gas and especially in
    renewable energy and insulation.

  7. b June 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    “Abandon” is a bit strong considering Italy isn’t currently relying on nuclear for any of its domestic electrical generation. Its much easy to vote against something that you don’t rely on in your daily life. In order to abandon something, you’d have to have it in the first place. The likely outcome of this is that Italy will build more coal plants like Germany has said they will do in order to replace their nuclear plants or that they will import coal and nuclear-sourced energy from their neighbors. If either of these ends up being true, I think this referendum is a loser. The only way this ends up being a win is if Italy somehow manages to do what no one else in the world has managed to do, which is produce enough domestic power to supply their demand from renewable energy sources.

  8. lazyreader June 14, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I didn’t even know they had nuclear reactors in Italy. That place is so ancient, I assumed they didn’t have the technology.

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