Italian Voters Turn Against Nuclear Power Ahead of Referendum

The walls of Genoa show it's not just German and Japanese politicians trashing nuclear power these days.

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Italian Voters Turn Against Nuclear Power Ahead of Referendum

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

A riff on the 1959 French film Hiroshima mon amour, set in postwar Japan

Italy is hurtling towards a referendum on nuclear power this month that could deliver yet another blow to the beleaguered low-carbon energy option, following recent reversals in Switzerland, Germany and Japan. Political graffiti and propaganda that I recorded last week in Genoa mirror opinion polls that show Italian voters souring rapidly on nuclear energy.

Fukushima Mon Amour (top right) is a riff on the 1959 French film Hiroshima Mon Amour, set in post-war Japan. Another image found on Genoa's medieval walls (lower right) closes with one of the Italian language's strongest insults, porcodio, to read: No to god-damned nuclear.

For Italy, this month's referendum is a case of deja vu: The country shut down the last of its four nuclear reactors in 1990, after voters approved an antinuclear referendum inspired by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. That made Italy the only G8 nation without nuclear power. Italy's top court ordered a second referendum for June 12 and 13 of this year after Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi passed legislation to restart Italy's nuclear program, proposing to supply a quarter of Italy's power via nuclear energy by 2030.

Last week, sensing an impending loss at the polls, Berlusconi's government put off the plan for two years and sought to scrap this month's referendum. If the courts nevertheless allow the vote to go forward, Italy's nuclear renaissance could be nipped in the bud.

But for all the anti-nuclear indignation that Italian voters may muster, their rejection of nuclear power is likely to be less than definitive. Roughly 10% of Italy's electricity is now nuclear power imported from France and Switzerland, according to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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