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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 16:50 GMT
Italian town wins nuclear battle

By Tamsin Smith
BBC, Scanzano, Italy

The people of Scanzano Jonico have been rejoicing in the streets after the Italian Government bowed to pressure and dropped a plan to bury nuclear waste nearby.

For the last two weeks many of them had been camping out in protest.

Thousands attended protests against the nuclear dump plans
They brought caravans, tents, stoves, computers and pets. Others blocked the regions roads and railway lines with tractors and lorries.

Look in any direction and you can see why the area they want to protect is dubbed "Italy's California".

There are endless rows of olive trees, vineyards and orange groves.

Nearby are clean sandy beaches where a cluster of smart new holiday villages has sprung up.

This is a pocket of economic success in an otherwise impoverished South.

Hunt for site

"Here our whole economy is based on agriculture and tourism," Scanzano's Mayor, Mario Altieri explains.

The waste is (currently) too easily accessible and could be used for a dirty bomb
Giancarlo Bolognini
Nuclear decommissioning chief
"We have zero unemployment compared to 19% in the rest of southern Italy."

The Basilicata region's new-found economic achievements did not stop the government selecting it as a dump site.

Since 11 September, pressure has been mounting to find a sparsely-populated and geologically stable site to safely store the country's radioactive material.

Giancarlo Bolognini, chief executive of Sogin, the company in charge of nuclear decommissioning in Italy, says the country's current nuclear storage facilities are the most dangerous and insecure in Europe.

"We have radioactive waste in more than 150 sites. Some storage places in universities and hospitals are just not safe," he says.

"The waste is too easily accessible and could be used for a dirty bomb."

Earthquake risk

Burying all waste 800 metres under Scanzano in a natural layer of rock salt would have been the best solution, he believed.

I consider this area to be very unstable... Scanzano is located on several active fault lines
Albina Coletta
head of geology at Basilicata university
But many geologists disagreed.

"I consider this area to be very unstable," said Albina Coletta, head of geology at Basilicata university, unrolling maps showing cross-sections of the area.

"We have new scientific data showing Scanzano is located on several active fault lines.

"It's at the forefront of a recently created mountain range and is actually still moving. Fluids could move along these fault lines and spread radioactivity.

"We also can't rule out the risk of earthquakes in this region."

In the end, the protesters caused their own earthquake and made the government change its mind.

Huge protest

Some 100,000 people from all over the region descended on Scanzano one of the last demonstrations.

Small children with radioactive symbols painted on their faces marched alongside people wearing masks and carrying cardboard coffins representing the town.

The government has treated us like imbeciles. Because our region isn't densely populated, doesn't mean we're worth less
Scanzano doctor
"We don't want nuclear waste, we want our land clean and we will fight," said Marika, a 14-year-old student.

"Here we get EU funds to encourage organic farming... and they want to give us a nuclear curse," said hotelier Marcella Forestiere.

"The government has treated us like imbeciles. Because our region isn't densely populated, doesn't mean we're worth less," said Rosella, a doctor from Scanzano.

The protesters then marched on Rome as parliament debated the issue.

Business fallout

On Thursday, the government removed the town's name from a decree on waste storage, and asked a panel of scientists to investigate alternative sites.

Rocco Zuccarella
They see Scanzano written on the box and send it back because they've seen something on TV about nuclear waste
Rocco Zuccarella
Local farmer
However, the Minister for Relations with Parliament, Carlo Giovanardi, said the scientists would evaluate "all the options... including Scanzano".

Roberto Tortoli, undersecretary of state for the environment, had earlier said Scanzano was the only suitable site, adding that if the government backed down it would never reach agreement on another.

The uncertainty has already been causing problems for the town.

"We're losing business fast," said farmer Rocco Zuccarella before the government announcement, gloomily-surveying his ripened crop of organically-grown clementines.

"Look... I've just got this fax from a market in Verona cancelling their order. They see Scanzano written on the box and send it back because they've seen something on TV about nuclear waste."

People power may have saved Scanzano from an even worse fate, but their livelihoods will remain contaminated until a final decision is reached to locate the dump elsewhere.

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