Italy has earmarked EUR 135 million for nuclear energy research, aiming to focus on small modular reactors instead of conventional plants, but also counting on nuclear fusion in the long term. The country shut its last units more than three decades ago but academic institutions and major companies are active abroad.
“We cannot triple what we don’t have,” Minister of the Environment and Energy Security Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said after Italy decided not to sign a nuclear energy declaration with 22 other countries at the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28 in Dubai. But the government is still working on a nuclear revival, which he claims could contribute EUR 45 billion to the domestic economy and create 52.000 jobs. Instead of the conventional technology, Italy is considering the deployment of small modular reactors or SMRs, Pichetto Fratin revealed.
Nuclear energy can contribute EUR 45 billion to the Italian economy, according to Pichetto Fratin
Proponents of the solution, which is yet to enter the commercial phase, argue that it would be cheaper as well as easier to fit in terms of spatial planning. The minister stressed that the construction of large reactors takes 15 years on average but that SMRs are expected to become available by the end of the decade.
Pichetto Fratin expressed belief they would enter the market within ten years. He added that Italy is considering joining the initiative launched at COP28.
Nuclear research included in net zero energy innovation program
Speaking at an event organized by the Italian Nuclear Association, Pichetto Fratin highlighted the EUR 135 million in nuclear research funds that his ministry approved last month. The EUR 502 million three-year program supports research and development of innovative energy technologies with zero carbon emissions.
The nuclear item is intended primarily for small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors (AMRs). But in line with the recently amended Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan, some of the funds are set to be used for nuclear fusion. It is an experimental technology that the ministry counts on in the long term.
SMRs are Ferrari, old reactors were Mickey Mouse
Italy closed its last reactors more than three decades ago ahead of schedule, as the Chernobyl disaster led to a referendum in 1987 in which citizens rejected nuclear power. An attempt at a revival was defeated at another plebiscite, in 2011.
Admitting that public opinion is divided, Pichetto Fratin called for dialogue and consensus. He compared the solutions under development to a Ferrari while referring to Italy’s old reactors as Mickey Mouse, Fortune Italia reported. The revision of the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan marked a turnaround in the country’s energy policy.
The government intends to have only a regulatory role in the nuclear revival
The government won’t be involved in the construction of nuclear plants – it is only there to regulate and authorize, the minister underscored.
The introduction of nuclear energy in a country implies the development of a supply chain and a highly skilled workforce, among other issues. But Italian universities, institutes and major energy companies are involved in such projects throughout the world.
Pichetto Fratin recently attended the inauguration of the third reactor in the Mochovce nuclear power station in Slovakia. Italian company Enel controls 33% of its operator Slovenské elektrárne.