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Italy to Overhaul Energy Strategy, Halt Atomic Plan Indefinitely

Italy will extend a moratorium on its nuclear program indefinitely and overhaul its energy strategy to focus on traditional and renewable sources because of concerns sparked by the atomic crisis in Japan.

Italy’s planned nuclear program was “coherent with a situation that has changed dramatically” after the accident at the Fukushima plant, Industry Minister Paolo Romani told Parliament today. The country will put off any further decisions on atomic energy until an overall European Union strategy is outlined, he said.

This is the second time Italy, the only major world economy without atomic power, has shied away from nuclear power after a major accident outside its borders. The country dismantled all its plants after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and had only just restarted its nuclear program when a March 11 tsunami triggered the Fukushima crisis.

Romani didn’t make it clear whether a referendum planned in June on the future of nuclear power would go ahead.

The minister said Italy will reflect on nuclear safety and fully participate in European efforts to come up with new standards. In the meantime the country will concentrate on diversifying its sources of fossil fuels, on improving infrastructure, and supporting research and development of renewable energy, he said.

Italy currently gets 80 percent of its energy from fossil fuels and the remaining 20 percent from hydroelectric and renewable energy, according to data from power grid operator Terna SpA. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition government had made nuclear energy part of a strategy to cut dependence on fossil fuels to 50 percent, reducing imports from abroad and cutting energy prices in the long term.

Now the country with Europe’s highest energy prices will have to find new ways to cut costs. Italian companies paid twice as much for power in 2010 as their French counterparts, 40 percent more than the U.K. and 27 percent more than German rivals, according to Eurostat, the region’s official provider of statistics.

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