A nuclear reactor in Sicily?

During the recent 2022 electoral campaign, the issue of nuclear energy in neighbouring Italy has resurfaced in the political debate.

Matteo Salvini, currently Minister for the Infrastructure and Transport, in addition to being Deputy Prime Minister of the ruling Italian coalition government, is on record as emphasising that, given the current energy crisis, he considers that it would be expedient to resurrect the nuclear proposal.

Italian voters have expressed themselves clearly on the matter twice. The last time was in a referendum in June 2011 in the aftermath of the Fukushima March 2011 nuclear disaster. Then, 94 per cent of those voting, opted in favour of a total ban on the construction of nuclear reactors on Italian soil.

The current energy crisis is pressuring all to find alternative energy supplies at affordable cost. Nuclear energy, however, comes with two hidden costs which are rarely ever factored into the costings presented for public debate: the disposal of nuclear waste and the inherent risks linked to the failure of the nuclear plants. The impacts of the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania USA – 28 March 1979), Chernobyl (Ukraine – 26 April 1986) and Fukushima (Japan – 11 March 2011) are clear enough testimony of what is at stake, when considering the option of nuclear energy.

The disposal of nuclear waste is the subject of an ongoing debate all over the world. It is costly both environmentally as well as financially. In the recent past, closer to home, the eco-mafia dumped various types of waste including nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea in 42 different ships sunk in different parts of the Mediterranean. The specific case of the sunken ship Kunsky off the Calabrian coast was revealed by ‘Ndrangheta/Camorra turncoats Francesco Fonti and Carmine Schiavone many years ago in their testimony to the Italian authorities.

Most of the technical risks of nuclear plants have become more manageable with the technical developments over the years. There is however one exception! As revealed by the Fukushima disaster, natural forces are not always predictable. In Fukushima the risks resulting from earthquakes in the end proved once more to be unmanageable. This is of extreme relevance to the debate on the possible eventual siting of nuclear reactors on the Italian mainland.

The site which in 2011 was indicated by the Italian authorities as the most probable candidate to host a nuclear reactor in Sicily was along the southern coastline in the vicinity of Palma de Montechiaro. That would be less than 100 kilometres to the North West of Gozo.

As we are aware Sicily is an earthquake prone zone. In addition to the multitude of small earthquakes we hear about and occasionally are aware of throughout the year, the Sicilian mainland was exposed to the two most intensive earthquakes ever to hit the European mainland. The 1693 earthquake centred in South East Sicily had a magnitude of 7.4 while the Messina 1908 earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 on the Mercalli scale. Both created havoc and had a high cost in human life! In addition, the physical infrastructure was in shambles.

A decision on whether the Italian government will once more attempt to consider the generation of nuclear energy on Italian soil is not due anytime soon. However, once the collection of signatures for a referendum on the matter gathers steam it will only be a question of time when we will have to consider facing the music one more time.

Our interest in Malta is in the transboundary impacts generated from a nuclear reactor sited along the southern Sicilian coast close to Palma di Montechiaro, should the proposed nuclear reactor malfunction.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind that the radioactivity emitted as a result of the Fukushima disaster led to a complete evacuation within a 200 km radius of the nuclear plant. Gozo being less than 100 km away from the Sicilian mainland should trigger the alarm bells of one and all as to what is ultimately at stake.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 15 January 2022