dicembre 2023
In May 2023 the Italian Parliament approved a motion in support of nuclear energy to ensure the country's energy independence. The motion also calls on the Government to promote objective information campaigns on nuclear energy to avoid preconceived opposition.

Currently, in Italy, the conflict between the production of Nuclear Energy and Renewable Energy is portrayed as an ideological opposition by many members of the governing majority.
However to clarify the objective terms of the dispute, let's briefly examine the peculiarities of the two energy sources.

1 - Thermonuclear plants are characterized by substantial investments, very long construction times, and capital costs with interest on loans exceeding double digits. Four examples include:

- Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, 1,600 MW EPR – Final cost after 12 years of delays: over 9 billion euros against the initially estimated 3.2 billion.

- Hinkley Point C in England; 2 EPR reactors of 1,600 MW each – Estimated cost of the plant in 2022: 33 billion Sterling ($40 billion). Agreed cost of energy: £106/MWh (2021)

- Flamanville in France – Estimated cost of the EPR plant in 2022: 13 billion euros. Energy cost: EdF has revised the cost of kWh upwards for the next 20 years to €60/MWh.

- Vogtle – Georgia, USA – Estimated cost of two 1,100 MW units in 2009: 14 billion dollars; final cost after 14 years and 7 years of delays: 35 billion dollars of which 17 billion over budget.

The unit cost of each individual system varies from 8 to 16 million Euros for each MegaWatt built.
There are not many companies capable of building thermonuclear plants; a few giants control the world nuclear market. Among these:

- Electricité de France (EdF), a French public company that incorporated Areva's nuclear activities in 2017, to avoid its bankruptcy.

- Rosatom, a Russian state company (¹) that provides all-inclusive packages: know-how for reactor construction, training, safety-related support, flexible financing options, government-provided credit lines. The company is also capable of processing spent nuclear fuel from overseas customers.

- Westinghouse, one of the first companies in the world to build nuclear plants, but now in Japanese hands (Toshiba) after the risk of bankruptcy due to heavy financial losses due to numerous problems in the construction of the third reactor at Vogtle in Georgia.

Indeed, in Italy there are many industrial groups with the capability to produce nuclear components and they evidently endorse the concept of the "Italian nuclear renaissance" after two popular referendums (1987 and 2011), which banned, with over 90% of votes, its construction on Italian territory. Italy was the cradle of nuclear physics, contributing to the discoveries that initiated the construction of the first nuclear reactor and the atomic bomb. Immediately after the end of the Second World War, Italy designed and built a nuclear reactor entirely based on Italian technology known as the "CIRENE Reactor (²)". Unfortunately, the reactor never became operational due to vehement opposition from the U.S. government, which had a vested interest in selling power plants from companies like Westinghouse and General Electric.

The supply of fuel, the enriched uranium, represents a complex and expensive industrial chain, with few companies globally capable of managing the entire process, from mining extraction, to crushing and grinding, enrichment, manufacturing of fuel, till the final radioactive waste management, all with considerable CO2 emissions (³) .

2 - On the other hand, large photovoltaic systems also known as "utility scale" cost 10 times less and produce electricity with very low maintenance costs with no fuel costs.

"Utility scale" systems cost around € 1,200/kW (1,2 million Euro/MW), while the cost of a small residential system is around € 1,800-2,000/kW all inclusive. Intermittency issues are addressed with the installation of storage batteries, the cost of which is continually decreasing.

Despite the advantages of renewable energy, there is a strong push for nuclear power in Italy. This appears to be driven not by ideology but by a desire for power and control by globalized industrial groups. These groups seem to aim for profitable ventures under the influence of sovereignist and centralist governments.

A compelling example of state ownership in the electricity and nuclear sector can be observed in France. In fact, the entirety of the electricity and nuclear industry in France is under state ownership. Remarkably, France lags behind other European countries in terms of renewable energy development.

The statement “Whoever controls energy production determines the destinies of the world”, emphasizes the critical role that energy policies and resources play in shaping the trajectory of societies and the global landscape.

Photovoltaic production is by its nature widespread at a territorial level and there are very many solar panel producers, even if the market is currently dominated by Chinese producers. There are now thousands of qualified installers spread throughout the territories. Almost everyone now, if the right physical conditions exist, can install a photovoltaic system on the roof of their home and considerably reduce the cost of their electricity bill.

As of May 2023, out of the 82 GW of total solar photovoltaic installed in Europe, 60%, equal to 50 GW, is represented by small distributed systems. This means that tens of thousands citizens have freed themselves, even if only partially, from electricity companies and the high costs of the electricity they supply.

In Italy, there appears to be a lack of encouragement from ministries and government bodies for the development of renewable energy plants. According to the Association that brings together renewable energy producers (ANIE Rinnovabili), data from the Ministry of the Environment and Energy Security as of June 2023 reveals that out of 68 GW of requests for the installation of renewable sources, with 46% related to agrivoltaic systems, only 5.2% of investigations have been concluded. Additionally, only 21.5% of these concluded investigations, which is equivalent to 1% of the total requests, have been approved and authorized.

Specifically, requests have been submitted for 42 GW of photovoltaic systems, out of which 32 GW are agrivoltaic systems. Agrivoltaic systems integrate traditional agricultural crops with photovoltaic panels installed at least two meters above the crops themselves. The data suggests a slow and limited approval process for renewable energy projects in Italy, particularly for agrivoltaic systems, despite their potential benefits in combining agriculture with energy production.

In addition, the regulation for "Energy Communities" which should outline incentives for shared consumption, is also at a standstill. However, a widespread adoption of Renewable Energy Communities, particularly in Shared Self-Consumption within Condominiums, has the potential to significantly decrease reliance on electricity from centralized mega plants and render the new push for nuclear power unnecessary.

However, in the scenario of a substantial expansion of renewable energy, the state-owned or state-participated national champions would face a decline in business opportunities. Furthermore, their political patrons would experience a reduction in their current level of influence, specifically in appointing managers and shaping the trajectory of these entities.

Indeed, in the end, such a potential shift towards renewable energy could prove to be advantageous for the citizens of this troubled Republic. Embracing renewable energy could bring about various benefits, including cleaner and more sustainable energy sources, reduced environmental impact, and potentially lower energy costs for individuals and businesses. Additionally, a shift towards renewables promotes innovation, job creation, and energy independence. While there might be difficulties in transitioning from established energy structures, the long-term advantages for citizens and the environment shall outweigh the short-term disruptions.

Sergio Zabot is an engineer and former Italian public manager, specialized in energy matters, who conceived and directed numerous programs on the rational use of energy and the development of renewable energy sources in the Lombardy Region in Italy. He then taught, as an adjunct professor at the School of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Milan, how to design Zero Energy Buildings. He is currently editor of the online magazines: "www.officinadellambiente.com" and "www.qualenergia.it". He runs his own blog: "www.tazioborges.it", an anagram of his name.

(¹) for a complete review on Rosatom, see: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41560-023-01228-5#Tab1
(²) for a short description of CIRENE Reactor, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIRENE
(³) for CO2 emission from Nuclear see: http://www.stormsmith.nl/Resources/m40wastemanagement20190912F.pdf
Sergio Zabot

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