The National Platform for a Sustainable Nuclear: is nuclear power coming back to Italy?

  Articoli (Articles)
  Leonardo Di Girolamo
  28 September 2023
  4 minutes, 49 seconds

On Thursday, September 21, the first meeting of the National Platform for a Sustainable Nuclear Power (PNNS) was held at the Ministry of Environment and Energy Security. The meeting, chaired by Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin, was attended by scientific associations, leading public research organizations, academics and universities, and public entities operating in the fields of nuclear safety and decommissioning. There were also numerous companies with investments already underway in the nuclear sector, both for medical applications and for the production of necessary components and facilities.

Objectives of the Platform

The fundamental objective of the platform, announced by the government in July during the update of the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (NIPEC), is to activate "competencies and roles of the different public and private institutional actors in order to define a path aimed at the possible resumption of the use of nuclear energy in Italy within a certain time frame." The presence of the scientific and academic world, however, underscores a particular interest of the Platform in research: the document published at the end of the event confirms this, giving space to new sustainable nuclear technologies under development. Sustainability and circularity are also mentioned as key features of the research, and the consequent improvement of the social acceptability of these new technologies: it is no secret that in a country like Italy the word 'nuclear' is still unreasonably scary.

The platform is defined by MASE as a "structured network" that has the goal of creating "a point of synthesis and national convergence" on the advanced nuclear sector. Expectations, critical issues, experiences, initiatives, and perspectives are all aspects that the Platform is committed to discussing, focusing on the sustainability and contribution to decarbonization that characterize nuclear-generated energy. Through the coordination of the different national actors operating in the sector, the Platform will allow for a reduction in the fragmentation of activities carried out by them in various capacities (energy, medical-therapeutic-diagnostic, materials qualification uses). This will not be a strictly national project: with the aim of stimulating collaborations and joint initiatives with partner countries, the platform will also interact with European and international players and will act as a tool for comparison and international coordination with platforms of a similar nature already established and operational at the European and international level (e.g., the European SNETP - Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform).

"Old" nuclear power or "new" nuclear power?

The focus seems to be on the field of SMRs, which stands for Small Modular Reactors, i.e., nuclear fission reactors composed of small units that enable local energy needs to be met, the focus of attention as early as last March, when 10 European Union countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania Slovakia, and Slovenia) signed a note ("Communiqué conjoint - Pour un cadre industriel et financier européen favorable à l'énergie nucléaire, permettant l'atteinte de la neutralité climatique d'ici 2050 et le renforcement de l'autonomie stratégique et de la sécurité énergétique de l'Europe") regarding the future of nuclear energy, in which the signatory countries (joined by Belgium, the Netherlands and also Italy as observer countries) pledge to support this technology through research and innovation. Large-scale nuclear power plants thus seem to be less considered, although reference is still made to the research of fourth-generation reactors and the now famous nuclear fusion in the long term.

Organization and next steps

With the support of RSE and ENEA, and following an internal Regulation in order to facilitate the achievement of common objectives and establish a constraint on the confidentiality of the work, the Platform will be divided into seven different Working Groups, with different thematic areas and objectives: context, scenarios and perspectives; fission technologies; fusion technologies; safety and prevention, regulatory framework, certification; waste and decommissioning; training and education; transversal aspects (environment, social acceptability, communication, other). It is interesting to note that almost all of these groups have as a substantial part of their objectives the reconnaissance of the national and international situation in that specific thematic area, thus demonstrating that the Platform represents only a first step.

The timeframe indicated by Minister Fratin is clear: within nine months the Platform will be able to draw up the Guidelines (actions, resources, investments, and timeframes) necessary for a return of nuclear power to Italy, a topic now taboo following the referendums on the subject. The reconnaissance activities of the various working groups will have an estimated duration of three months, to which will be added another three months needed for the elaboration of the various proposals; after another month, the complete and summary document of the roadmap will be drafted, and in the last two months the working groups will work together to finalize the Guidelines.

So, in less than a year we could be talking about nuclear power again in Italy, bringing us in line with those other 12 European countries that have already committed to invest in the sector. Reactions from politicians have already manifested themselves: Vice-Premier Matteo Salvini argues that "Italy cannot waste time" and that we must "return to producing clean and safe energy through nuclear power starting in the next few years"; on the other hand, Alleanza Verdi e Sinistra deputy Angelo Bonelli threatens "a new referendum" in case the government intends to continue this path. All we can do is wait for the experts' work to be completed by early next summer. 

Translated by Denise Praticò.

Mondo Internazionale APS - Reproduction Reserved ® 2023

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Leonardo Di Girolamo


PNNS energia nucleare transizione energetica transizione verde energia pulia Ministero dell'ambiente e della sicurezza energetica Ricerca e Sviluppo sostenibilità