Italy’s Government launched its National Platform for Sustainable Nuclear Power on Thursday as the country looks to reintroduce nuclear energy to its power mix after a decades-long hiatus.

The first meeting of the government platform looked to set out a road map for the potential reintroduction of the energy source. The electoral programme of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government had already suggested a return to nuclear could be likely as Italy looks to decarbonise its electricity mix.

During 2022 election campaigns, leaders from all three now-formed coalition parties focused on nuclear power as a key way to ensure energy security for the country and reduce dependence on Russian gas in the wake of the war in Ukraine.

“We aim to eliminate coal first, then oil, and conserve gas until renewables are developed enough to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050,” Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said at the meeting.

“But in the long run, the continued demand for energy will be such that we will have to provide for the use of sources that ensure, as opposed to renewables, continuity in energy delivery; just like nuclear power,” he added.

Italy fully phased out nuclear power more than three decades ago following a referendum on the energy source, a move that was triggered by the Chernobyl disaster. The country closed its last reactors in 1990. The government has ruled out the possibility of constructing large third-generation power plants as a means to meet any potential nuclear power targets but is looking at newer technologies such as small modular reactors and fourth-generation reactors.

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A development plan for the country’s return to nuclear is expected within the next nine months. The meeting, chaired by Fratin, was attended by public research organisations, academics, scientific associations and nuclear operating companies from elsewhere.

“Italy cannot waste time: the goal of returning to clean and safe energy production through nuclear power, starting in the next few years, must be clear,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister Matteo Salvini.

Criticism of the decision to reintroduce nuclear, which many campaign groups do not consider a sustainable source of energy, instead of a ramp up of renewables has come from environmental parties such as Europa Verde.

“Minister Fratin seems to have forgotten a fundamental lesson: nuclear energy is an economic and environmental dead end. We are talking about an energy that requires massive public investment,” Green and Left Alliance MP Angelo Bonelli pointed out at the meeting.