This week’s two-day referendum saw nearly 95% of voters reject the reintroduction of nuclear power generation. Berlusconi had wanted to revive the country’s nuclear programme after it was dropped more than two decades ago following the Chernobyl disaster.
The referendum – in which the electorate also rejected the privatisation of municipal water supplies and legislation that protects the prime minister from prosecution – attracted a turnout of around 57%, more than the 50% required to make the results legally binding. As the outcome of the referendum became clear, Berlusconi told media on Monday that Italy “must probably say goodbye” to nuclear and commit itself to renewable energy.
Shares in Enel Green Power, the renewable wing of Italian utility Enel, rose more than 3% to €1.99 ($2.87) following news of the referendum.
Lee Clements, an investment manager at Impax Asset Management in London, said Italy’s nuclear rejection may be positive for renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives in the long run. However, with nuclear now firmly off the table and solar power subject to continued regulatory uncertainty, natural gas is most likely to fill the gaps in additional energy capacity in the short- to medium-term.
The nuclear result may also push Italy to be more proactive in expanding its European grid connections, he added.
Italian voters echo German anti-nuclear sentiment
Italy’s poll comes hot on the heels of the recent nuclear backlash in Germany.
Last month, Germany announced that its oldest seven nuclear reactors, which were suspended in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster, will be permanently closed, with a total of 17 nuclear plants to be shut down by 2022. Chancellor Angela Merkel also vowed to double Germany’s 2020 renewables target.
Italy’s referendum also points to the waning popularity of the Italian prime minister. Berlusconi – who features on the cover of this week’s edition of The Economist as “The man who screwed an entire country”– was defeated in local Milan elections last month and is widely said to have used his media influence to dissuade voter participation in the referendum.