On May 16, demonstrations have been held in many cities in Italy in the buildup to the national referendum on 12 and 13 June on restarting a nuclear program. Meanwhile, on May 15, a regional referendum on Sardinia regarding building a nuclear power plant ended in an astonishing 97.64 percent of votes against the plan. And even important, the percentage of voters (59.34%) was well above the 33% quorum for the validity of the consultation.
Italian PM Berlusconi is attempting to postpone the national referendum or delete the question on nuclear power from it. Angelo Bonelli, president of the Italian Green Party: "The referendums will be voted on anyway, despite the fact that the thieves of democracy have returned to action. The attempts of the government to steal the democratic rights of the Italian people to vote against nuclear energy and the privatization of water will not succeed".
Following Berlusconi's election victory in 2008 and his return to power for the third time since 1994, Italy's new minister of economic development Claudio Scajola -- before being forced out of office by a corruption scandal involving bribery and fraud in 2010 -- announced that the government had scheduled the start of construction for the first new Italian nuclear power plant by 2013. On February 24, 2009, an agreement between France and Italy was signed allowing Italy to share in France's expertise in the area of nuclear power station design. On July 9, 2009 the Italian legislature passed an energy bill covering the establishment of a Nuclear Regulatory Agency and giving the government six months to select sites for new plants. These sites have never been finalized. On August 3, 2009, Italy's energy giant Enel and Electricite de France established a joint venture Sviluppo Nucleare Italia Srl for studying the feasibility of building at least four reactors using a design of French reactor builder Areva -- the worlds largest nuclear energy company. These energy oligarchs, with Berlusconi as their champion, are doing everything in their power to preserve their multi-billion dollar investment in a nuclear future.
To this end Berlusconi's council of ministers announced a one year moratorium on all questions relating to the research and activation of sites for new nuclear plants in Italy on March 24, 2011, less than two weeks after the earthquake in Japan and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster. This move was immediately met with skepticism from Italy's antinuclear movement and opposition political parties and was seen as a poorly veiled attempt to block the June referendum. On April 26th, the 25th anniversary of the catastrophic Chernobyl accident, Berlusconi held a press conference with French president Nikolay Sarkozy in Rome. At this press conference Berlusconi made his radioactive intentions clear for all. "We are absolutely convinced that nuclear energy is the future for the whole world," he said. He went on to detail how recent polls showed that the referendum to block nuclear power for decades to come could pass at this time and that by temporarily suspending Italy's return to nuclear program the issue would be revisited when the Italian voters had been "calmed down" and returned to the realization that Nuclear Energy was the most viable and safe way to produce electricity. He went on to explain how the "leftists and ecologists" had manipulated the emotions of the Italian voters after Chernobyl and penalized the Italian people who have to pay higher electric rates than France that operates 58 nuclear power plants. Berlusconi explained that the "situation in Japan had scared the Italian voters" and that the "inevitable return to nuclear power in Italy" would not be abandoned nor would the collaborations between Enel and Eletricite de France.
Now with Germany and Japan announcing the phasing out of their nuclear programs and the scrapping of plans for the construction of new reactors, it would seem like political suicide to barge full steam ahead with a pro-nuclear stance, but this is Italy and Berlusconi is still at the command. Berlusconi is now in control of all the major television outlets, including the state owned RAI, so getting the word out to the voters that there will be a vote on June 12 & 13, is proving difficult, and the heavy hand of State censorship has been yielded. At the annual May Day concert in Rome, sponsored by Italy's two largest labor unions and televised on the state run RAI, the performing artists were required to sign a waiver agreeing not to speak about the upcoming referendums or risk a fine of over ten thousand euros. This left a bitter taste in the mouths of many of the attendees of this May Day celebration as news surfaced almost immediately that the state media outlet had censored the event.
As of now the referendum to block nuclear power is still on the ballot. Only a last minute ruling by the Supreme Court could remove it, and the Berlusconi government is banking on this decision as a result of their so-called nuclear moratorium. The anti-nuclear referendum is accompanied on the June ballot by two other referendums, one to repeal the Berlusconi government's attempts to privatize water and the other to repeal a law called "legittimo impedimento" which was passed by the Right wing majority in order to protect Berlusconi from prosecution by giving him and members of parliament immunity from prosecution while serving in office. Each of these referendums required the gathering of half a million valid signatures and will need the high participation of 50 % plus 1 eligible voters to reach the mandated quorum in order to be considered valid. No legislative referendum has been able to reach this quorum in over a decade. Now the Berlusconi government is also trying to block the vote to keep water publicly owned. In recent legislation they created a new Water Authority in an attempt to legally block this referendum as well. While it is evident to the engaged and politically active citizenry that the Berlusconi government is pulling out all the stops to block the democratic process, the masses who get their information from Berlusconi's private and state run television empire are being kept in the dark. No news on the referendums is reported unless it is it is very late at night or the early hours of the morning.
Sources: Michael Leonardi, Counterpunch, 13-15 May / Spiked. 16 May 2011, Dominic Standish