(november 13, 2003) Ultimately, it was the weather that passed the final judgment. Following a 15-day popular uprising in November, the small southern Italian town of Scanzano Jonico and its supporters, defeated government plans to site a national nuclear waste dump there. Last week it took just 24 hours of rain to prove the point.
(600.5562) Linda Gunter for NIRS - As locals struggled to salvage possessions from the floodwaters, the now infamous waste site at Terzo Cavone lay under water, the road leading to it impassible. The "safest site in the country", the "nuclear cemetery", had gone to a watery grave.
The choice of Scanzano, the first and only site named to date, "came like a lightning bolt," said local World Wildlife Fund representative Tonino Colucci. The close proximity of the Trisaia research center, where nuclear processing work was conducted, had sparked rumors that Scanzano might be named. However, exclusion criteria in a special report on radioactive waste storage released by the government, seemed to rule it out.
The town and the region of Basilicata mobilized instantly and protests culminated in an unprecedented march of 100,000 on 23 November.
Faced with a tidal wave of opposition, the Berlusconi government beat a hasty retreat. Scanzano was dropped as the dump and, in early December, the government declared it would keep all low- and intermediary-level wastes on site. Only high-level waste would be moved to a repository, to be chosen in 12 months. General Carlo Jean, the Special Commissioner for the dump project, was abruptly relieved of his duties one day after addressing a nuclear waste briefing held by Greenpeace Italy in Rome. Jean's background as a Freemason and former secret service man added to suspicions that the whole project would be a military undertaking clouded in secrecy.
Why had the Berlusconi govenment failed to anticipate such opposition? What they overlooked, locals say, was the unique history of the area, where the stories of rebellious brigands remain as locked in the collective memory as the more recent struggle to salvage a salty clay wasteland and turn it into a fertile valley dripping with fruit trees, vineyards and olive groves. Tourism soon followed and today, despite severe unemployment in much of the region, Scanzano, nestled on the Ionic Sea, thrives.
In the past, Basilicata had been a place of emigration, politically quiet, poor and largely rural. Now, after working the land, people are able to settle there. "We have built our little corner of paradise", said Nicola Vassallo, a public official from the nearby town of Nova Siri. "People made this place. They've had a very hard life. Finally, they have their paradise and then the government tried to dump hell on them. That's why they rose up."
Intrinsic to the fight was a sense that the north was once again victimizing the south. Mostly, it was a sense of outrage at the military-style imposition of the decree that named Scanzano, issued without public consultation or environmental impact studies. The Battle of Scanzano was, more than anything, a fight for democracy.
Today, the people of Basilicata know they have the momentum. "We've set a precedent that the piazza decides the agenda," said Vassallo. Inspired by Scanzano, Italians are uniting in nuclear cities across the country to ensure that an open, democratic, scientific process, not a dictatorial decree, will decide the future of Italy's radioactive waste. They have rejected the illusions of transmutation and reprocessing and are learning that the two U.S. dumps, WIPP and Yucca Mountain, do not provide the solution, despite heavy propaganda in Italy to the contrary. Most importantly, activists hope to prevent the threatened reopening of Italy's four nuclear reactors, closed after a post-Chernobyl referendum in 1987.
When Scanzano was eliminated, the town's besieged mayor urged protesters to pack up and go home. "It's over," he told them, but the people of Basilicata maintained their vigilance at the Terzo Cavone "base camp" where brigand songs reverberated nightly around a crackling fire. The camp provided, they said, a good meeting point, as well as a symbol of their distrust of the government that could still break its word in 12 months and choose Scanzano after all but perhaps the elements have now taken care of that plan once and for all.
A rather ironic old sign on the beach, endorsed by the Italian ministry of the environment and the European Union, just 200 meters from the proposed nuclear waste site reads: "Do not soil this zone with waste of any kind. Take it with you."
Source and contact: Linda Gunter reporting for NIRS from Italy;
Email: [email protected]
ITALY AND SELLAFIELD
Following a three-day trial on charges of malicious damage, Martin Forwood, campaign co-ordinator of CORE (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment) was found guilty of obstructing a railway engine at Barrow Docks. He was ordered to pay a fine of GBP 250 (US$ 440) and GBP 1500 (US$ 2,650) towards his legal costs but was not ordered to pay any prosecution costs.
The judge, Peter Openshaw QC, said that while Forwood's actions could not be legally excused, he did not doubt the sincerity of the campaigner's views. He also acknowledged that the campaigner had conducted himself with dignity and restraint during both protest and trial.
On 15 April, Forwood locked himself onto a railway line protesting against the arrival of a consignment of Italian waste (originally from Garigliano power station which closed in 1982) destined for reprocessing at Sellafield's THORP plant. Local groups in Italy had also attempted to halt the first controversial shipment in April. In a post-Chernobyl public referendum held in 1987, 87% of the Italian public voted against nuclear power. Later in September, 27 Greenpeace activists were arrested during another protest. The European Parliament was presented with a petition this summer calling for a ban on any further transport and reprocessing of Italian fuel. Since April, three more shipments have arrived at Sellafield and nine more are expected in 2004.
Following his conviction, Forwood said "I feel no guilt for an action that has drawn public attention to the illegal import by BNFL of foreign nuclear waste. The protest was just the start of a campaign to get this trade banned".
CORE press release, 8 December 2003