Italy’s solar industry received a major shot in the arm on Monday when voters comprehensively rejected the government’s plans for a return to nuclear power generation. Despite Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's attempt to influence the outcome by discouraging the population from going to the polls – the referendum needed a turnout of at least 50% to be binding – over 94% of the electorate voted against the nuclear revival.
Berlusconi acknowledged that the high turnout showed “a will on the part of citizens to participate in decisions about our future that cannot be ignored. The will of Italians is clear on all the subjects of this consultation,” he added. “The government and parliament must now respond fully… we shall probably have to say goodbye to nuclear [energy].”
The outcome, in what was the world's first nationwide vote on the issue since Japan's Fukushima disaster in March, is a landmark for the anti-nuclear movement. And, in a press conference in Rome on Monday, Berlusconi added that his government would now concentrate all its efforts into developing its renewable sector.
This revelation augurs well for PV, which, despite the recent confusion surrounding the country’s solar subsidies, is well positioned to capitalise on the nuclear fallout; Italy has one of the world’s fastest growing solar industries thanks to its high irradiance levels and falling PV installation and equipment costs.
Vittorio Cogliati Dezza, president of the environmental organisation Legambiente, said, “The era of nuclear [energy] is coming to an end today. Definitively. A new season of development for the country is beginning.”
Italy initially abandoned its nuclear programme following a referendum in 1987, with the government gradually phasing out all of the country's plants by 1990. Berlusconi’s now scuppered plans for a nuclear revival would have seen a quarter of Italy's electricity generated by French-built nuclear plants. Construction of the first was due to start in 2013.