Europe: Italy and France to sign nuclear pact

Rome, 23 Feb. (AKI) - Italy and France are to sign an historic agreement on nuclear cooperation when the country's leaders meet in Rome on Tuesday. Italian industry minister Claudio Scajola said on Monday that the agreement would be signed during a meeting in the Italian capital between prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and visiting French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Scajola said the agreement, to be signed in Rome by the leaders of the two nations, would include all aspects of nuclear power, from cooperation at the European level to security, technological cooperation, training, and industrial cooperation in other countries.

Ministers from eight different ministries - foreign affairs, defence, finance, economic development, transport, education, culture and community affairs - were expected to join their country's leaders.

While Scajola's statement offered no substantial details, the nuclear agreement is expected to provide a basis for which Italy's major utility, Enel, can increase its participation in France's nuclear power industry.

"Italy has taken a major step forward towards a new energy strategy for the country," said Scajola.

"This involves greater security in regard to obtaining supply, through the diversification of sources and their geographic location and greater environmental protection," he said.

According to media reports, Enel is expected to acquire a 12.5 percent stake in France's second next-generation European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) nuclear reactor after the cooperation agreement is endorsed.

Enel already owns a 12.5 percent stake in France's first EPR, which is being built at Flamanville in northwest France and will be operated by French power giant EDF.

At the weekend Enel agreed to buy a 25 percent stake in the Spanish builder Acciona in Endesa, Spain's largest hydropower generator.

EDF is the world's biggest operator of nuclear power plants. It may propose a joint venture to build a nuclear plant with Enel in Italy.

Italy shut down its four nuclear power plants after a referendum held the year after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

There is a moratorium on the construction of new plants but the Berlusconi government has flagged the possibility of new nuclear plants because of Italy's dependence on energy imports.

Italy has been paying for the referendum decision with energy costs higher than most other European nations. Italy also imports a substantial part of its electricity from France where nuclear power is one of the main sources of energy.

Many French nuclear power plants are located near the Italian borders, making Italy vulnerable to nuclear disasters, even though none are present on its soil.


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