Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 18:02 UK

Italy 'to revive nuclear power'

Italian nuclear power plant near Vercelli, northern Italy
Italy's four nuclear power plants have been shut down

Italy says it is to restart its nuclear energy programme, more than 20 years after it was scrapped by referendum in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster.

Since then Italy has become the world's biggest net importer of electricity.

Industry Minister Claudia Scajola said building "a group of new-generation nuclear power stations" would reduce the country's reliance on oil and gas.

He told a pro-nuclear business lobby group that construction was scheduled to begin by 2013.

Italy depends on oil and gas imports to meet more than 80% of its energy needs and its power prices are among the highest in Europe.

"We can no longer avoid an action plan for a return to nuclear power," Mr Scajola said.

The step was part of the campaign manifesto of Italy's recently elected Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

However, there is thought still to be strong public opposition to nuclear energy, and it is not clear how the government will override the 1987 referendum, following which Italy's four nuclear reactors were decommissioned.

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