Friday, April 25, 2008

Italy returns to nuclear energy

A densely populated country needs a lot of electricity

Enel SpA. plans to build a nuclear power plant in Italy to take advantage of an expected legislative shift that will put the nation back on a path to using nuclear power. Italy has banned the construction and operation of nuclear power plants within its borders in 1987. However, it isn't shy about buying electricity from France generated from nuclear plants there. Overall, it is a positive development and one that has been expected for some time.

The Financial Times Deutschland reports chief executive Fulvio Conti said, 'We are capable of presenting such a project. 'It would take seven to 10 years until a new nuclear power plant could come online.'

Silvio Berlusconi, the head of a coalition that won the general elections, advocates the reintroduction of nuclear power and believes it could take five years to build a power plant. Politicians are always more optimistic than engineers, but he's set a direction for the government which is what counts.

Conti said it is not yet clear where a new nuclear power plant could be built, as Italy is a "small, densely populated country. We do not have a preferred location," he said.

It's also possible Conti has been reading the news coverage of what's going on in the U.S. at Vermont Yankee. He told the TImes, "it would be dangerous to name possible sites now anyway, that would lead to a revolution." This comment suggests that while the country's political leadership and the utility are ready to go, getting the voters to sign up will be an uphill struggle.

Italy's waste is Utah's headache

One of the problems Italy has, as a "densely populated country," is where to dispose of its low-level nuclear waste. A proposal to ship it to a facility in Utah has run into a political storm. The Salt Lake City Tribune reports Utah Gov. Jim Huntsman has mounted on a white charger, drawn his sword, and plans to defend Utah against Italy's waste plan.

The Tribune reported that Huntsman said he would use Utah's vote in a regional nuclear waste council to stop the disposal of foreign radioactive waste in the United States. Without Utah's "yes" vote, EnergySolutions cannot get a federal license from the NRC to bring the Italy waste into the United States.

"As I have always emphatically declared," Huntsman said, "Utah should not be the world's dumping ground."

EnergySolutions reportedly asked for the license last September. The company's plans is to ship 20,000 tons of low-level waste from the cleanup of Italy's commercial reactor program. Apparently, someone in Rome forgot to tell the voters that when you shut down and decommission a nuclear power plant the pieces of it you want to get rid of have to go somewhere else. If you don't have room for it, you've just encountered a counter intuitive result caused by the law of unintended consequences.

EnergySolutions said it wants to process that material at a specialized plant in Tennessee, then dispose of the remaining 1,600 tons at the low-level radioactive waste landfill in Tooele County. Basically, this plan reduces the volume by a factor of 10. EnergySolutions pointed out that similar imports have been going on for years and that this shipment would have a tiny impact on overall U.S. capacity for radioactive waste disposal.

The company said it was "disappointed" by the governor's stance.

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