‘Hard luck Berlusconi’ was the general sentiment around Italy’s referendum results. They spelt an overwhelming rejection of his favoured policies: new nuclear, water privatisation and a pathetic attempt to protect himself and his cronies by delaying trials of government ministers. Whilst all three victories are significant, the resounding defeat of Berlusconi’s plans to reintroduce nuclear power into Italy are of international importance.
With Germany’s recent decision not to renew its nuclear power plants and to make an even greater turn to renewables, Italy’s decision shows that the popular mood across Europe is turning against nuclear. Switzerland has already taken this decision, and of course many European countries don’t have nuclear power stations anyway.
It has also been heartening to see a massive shift in public opinion in France, which has historically been a bastion of pro-nuclear sentiment. Opinion polls now show overwhelming opposition to this dirty, dangerous and expensive form of power.
The reasons are not hard to see. Not only have people been affected by the unfolding tragedy at Fukushima, but the current attempts to build a new, third reactor at Flamanville nuclear power station have been dogged by huge delays and massive increases in cost. And just in case you thought the Scandinavians can do these things better, attempts to build a similar ‘EPR’ – European pressurized water reactor at Olkiluoto in Finland have also faced the same inordinate costs and delays. The project is now facing an inquiry by the Finnish nuclear regulator.
Of course the bad news remains that the British government still plans to go ahead with new nuclear power stations here and regrettably the recent Weightman report into the implications of Fukushima gave the government more or less carte blanche to go ahead as it had planned prior to Fukushima. As one of the speakers said today, at a really excellent parliamentary meeting of scientists looking at these same issues, ‘Britain remains the great white hope of the nuclear industry’. This is totally unacceptable. Popular protest against nuclear power is low in Britain but this has to change. I have confidence that this can – and will – happen, for the case against nuclear power is overwhelming and to proceed with it will be highly detrimental to us all, and to future generations. Now is the time for us to get active on this issue.