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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 28, 2003) In Italy, controversy arose over a plan to bury the country's nuclear waste in a former salt mine in Scanzano. The plans were announced by the Italian government and resulted in strong opposition from the concerned municipality. As a result, the government has shelved the proposal, for the moment, but still plans to continue with site feasibility studies. If the plan succeeds, Italy will be among the few countries in the world that realized underground disposal.

(599.5556) WISE Amsterdam - The official decision was passed on 13 November as an emergency decree declaring that a national repository for all waste categories will be built as a "national defense" facility in a salt deposit in Scanzano Jonico, a seaside location in the southern province of Basilicata.

According to the plan an underground repository will be built in a salt deposit to house some 80,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste from the country, including some 350 tons of spent fuel and 8,500 cubic meters of high-level waste. The plan proposes burial of the first low- and medium-level waste in the salt in 2009. In addition, an aboveground interim storage building is to be built for the storage of high-level waste and spent fuel. These highly dangerous wastes may also be buried in the salt once a 10-year period of research can prove the suitability of the formation for this waste.

The waste comes from four shut down nuclear power reactors (Trino Vercellese, Caorso, Latina and Garigliano), five other nuclear fuel processing facilities, a European research center at Ispra and an interim storage site near the Casaccia research center. (1)

History of site search
During the 1970-1980s, the State Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Environment (ENEA) performed studies on deep geological disposal. At that time, clay was the reference geological formation for a repository for high-level waste. A list of candidate locations was also formulated for low- and medium-level waste. Plans for a central interim storage facility for spent fuel and high-level waste started in 1995, when the National Electric Energy Agency (ENEL) initiated a feasibility study for such a facility. (2)

Until now, no centralization of waste storage was realized and all radioactive waste is still stored at the production sites, more than 120 across the country. (3)

Sogin, the state-owned company for the repository planning, recently warned that ongoing decommissioning at closed reactors would be stopped because of a lack of storage capacity. One government minister proposed to realize regional repositories but the Berlusconi government favored one central facility.

Reasoning behind this central storage was the "9/11" argument, i.e. the risk of a terrorist attack on one of the waste storage sites in Italy. Early this year the Council of Ministers passed a "state of emergency" decree concerning waste around the country. Sogin's chairman General Carlo Jean was appointed as special commissioner for radwaste management and security and he was given the mandate to find a site. In June, Jean formulated a short list of potential sites. One of the sites on that list was the island of Sardinia. During this summer, the possibility of waste burial on Sardinia caused major uproar.

In the meantime, the secret services and ENEA warned that the Mafia or foreign terrorists could be a threat to the present waste sites. As a consequence, the government urged Jean to rapidly conclude his search for a site. A working group considered 17 potential sites on the surface, subsurface (at low depth) or underground (deep disposal). That working group decided on an underground site. The salt layer at Scanzano is 150 meters thick and covered by 700 meters of a clay formation. (4)

Nuclear energy in Italy
Italy's nuclear energy program was launched in the 1960s. Between 1963 and 1978 four reactors started operation reactors (Trino Vercellese, Caorso, Latina and Garigliano). Construction of two more reactors at Montalto had begun in the early 1980s and a heavy water reactor and a prototype fast breeder were under development. Italy was also developing fuel cycle facilities such as fuel fabrication, reprocessing and plutonium fuel facilities. Everything changed after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

In November 1987 a referendum was held, formally limited to specific nuclear legislation. The results were negative for nuclear energy and subsequent legislation was adopted to close the country's NPPs and halt construction of the other reactors.

In addition, the above-mentioned legislation called for the decommissioning of the closed reactors. However this has been delayed due of the absence of a national storage site for low- and medium-level waste and a central facility for spent fuel (5). Presently, the closed reactors still contain the spent fuel elements and as long these are stored inside, full dismantling cannot take place. (6)

Protest against Scanzano plans
The decree initially went unnoticed due to a terrorist attack on Italian forces in Iraq. Actually, the decree was announced some hours after the bombing. The timing of the announcement may or may not have been accidental but at least it was useful for the government. In fact, one of the most controversial decisions in the last years ended up buried deep inside the news bulletin and reduced to the status of a small issue. (7)

Protests were subsequently organized in Scanzano and the Basilicata province. Protestors started a camp in an olive yard in Scanzano with banners such as "This is not the toilet of Italy" and special dinners like "atomic spaghetti" and "explosion pie with plutonium sauce".

The mayor of Scanzano apparently hasn't made up his mind as he spoke of a "death sentence" for his town on one hand, but also confides that the state would have provided an annual 25 million Euro rent provision.

Faced with the "9/11" argument (to have one central secured facility), the local people realized that the Scanzano site will become an ideal target, with so much waste being collected at one place. Other arguments heard against the present plan are that it is just 100 meters from the sea and located in a low-risk earthquake zone. The "nuclearization" of the region around Scanzano appears to have begun when foreign customers started to cancel orders for the famous Fantanarosa wines (8) and hotel operators were reporting cancellations, solely because of the news reports. (9)

The Basilicata regional council voted on 19 November to declare the Scanzano region a denuclearized zone and authorized legal action against the decree. (10)

The angry citizens of Scanzano are not the only people to have reacted. Officials in waste management programs outside Italy also criticized the top-down approach, predicting it would fail without public support. According to Nucleonics Week, the Italian government's intention to push through the siting conflicts with the ideal that preaches stakeholder dialogue and consultation with the public. The Italian approach amounts to the "Decide, Announce, Defend" method followed by many countries before the 1990s and which basically did not lead to any repositories being built, except the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in the U.S., which as a federal site wasn't subject to a broad licensing process. (11)

Environmental NGOs
A somewhat different position was taken by Friends of the Earth Italy (Amici della Terra). According to FOE Italy the decision (on site selection) was pending for many years and all nuclear reactors were closed in the past. The present situation of many waste sites poses a risk in terms of safety and environment protection. The lack of a central storage facility also means that Italian waste at the Sellafield reprocessing plant cannot be sent back to Italy.

FOE Italy has called the government decree a "proper decision to try and put a definitive end to the short-lived Italian nuclear phase". FOE Italy fears that without a national repository, the waste could be exported to the Ukraine. FOE Italy said that a "permanent disposal site for nuclear waste is necessary and urgent, and the decision on Scanzano is technically appropriate, as there are not many other options available, particularly in a densely populated and morphologically fragile country like Italy". It proposes to compensate the local population for hosting the site. (12)

Many other NGOs, including WISE Amsterdam have criticized the statement from FOE ITALY. To support a waste disposal site in a situation that the concerned government is still supporting nuclear energy is considered dangerous. As a matter of fact, many governments have presented plans for disposal sites as "solution" of the problem, creating the basis for a further expansion of nuclear energy.

Although Italy has closed its nuclear power reactors, there is still involvement of Italian firms and government in nuclear energy. Since the 28 September electricity blackout, which struck Italy heavily, a kind of nuclear renaissance has taken place in Italy. For the first time in years, politicians are talking openly about new nuclear building (although capacity shortage was not the cause of the blackout). The idea is mentioned to reopen two of the reactors within 1.5 years. State utility ENEL is presently working on a deal to buy into French Electricity of France (EdF) nuclear generating capacity. The last national energy plan of 1988, envisaged design of an inherently safe reactor and Italy cooperated in research international programs on new reactor designs. (13)

Giancarlo Bolognini, CEO of Sogin, the state owned company for repository planning, said in September that he welcomed the new, more positive attitude in Italy toward nuclear power. He said the "emotive post-Chernobyl wave" of antinuclear sentiment was disappearing and that "makes it possible to start again with a new generation" of NPPs. (14) Guess what his position will be once the Scanzano repository is built…

WISE Amsterdam considers the selection process used for Scanzano as the old-fashioned style of decide, announce, and defend. It goes beyond the discussion regarding whether this particular site is technically the best or the just the lesser of two evils.

On 20 November, the government announced it would modify the decree so that no nuclear waste would be moved to Scanzano until it was confirmed to be the best suitable site. It has said that the decision would go on ice pending a commission to consult with scientists and regional authorities on the choice and on alternative sites. In a statement, the government stated that after these talks "either the choice of the site will be confirmed or a new site will be chosen". The government also announced to be ready to build interim storage at existing waste sites to solve the most urgent problems. (15) (16)

However, one week later, things have changed. Just before this Nuclear Monitor went to press on 27 November, it became clear that Scanzano has now been completely struck off the list due to the strong protests. The Council of Ministers decided to cancel the Scanzano site. A new commission will come up with a new proposal within 18 months. One location now being mentioned is central Sicily. (17)

Sicily? Home of the Italian Mafia? Wasn't it the secret services that warned that the Mafia could be a threat to waste sites? And it was the government who speeded up the process to find quickly a 'safe' site, resulting in Scanzano. And now they would consider Sicily?

(1) Nucleonics Week, 20 November 2003
(2) Radioactive waste management programs in OECD/NEA member countries, OECD/NEA, 1998
(3) Nuclear Fuel, 24 November 2003
(4) Nucleonics Week, 20 November 2003
(5) Radioactive waste management programs in OECD/NEA member countries, OECD/NEA, 1998
(6) FOE Italy, October 1999
(7) Italy Independent, 17 November 2003
(8) The Guardian, 22 November 2003
(9) UPI, 17 November 2003
(10) Nuclear Fuel, 24 November 2003
(11) Nucleonics Week, 20 November 2003
(12) A big nuclear hoax from Italy, FIOE Italy, 21 November 2003
(13) Nucleonics Week, 2 October 2003
(14) Nucleonics Week, 6 November 2003
(15) AFP, 21 November 2003
(16) Nuclear Fuel, 24 November 2003
(17) Emails from FOE Italy and Linda Gunter, 27 November 2003

Contact: WISE Amsterdam