Italian government officials took to newspapers on Saturday to promote alternative energy, including banned nuclear power, as a debate over the country's heavy dependence on power imports cranked up. "We are not giving up on nuclear even if it's not our immediate answer," Economic Development Minister Pierluigi Bersani told La Repubblica newspaper in an interview.
MILAN (Reuters) - Italian government officials took to newspapers on Saturday to promote alternative energy, including banned nuclear power, as a debate over the country's heavy dependence on power imports cranked up.
"We are not giving up on nuclear even if it's not our immediate answer," Economic Development Minister Pierluigi Bersani told La Repubblica newspaper in an interview.
"It's important not to miss the technology train ... in the future, there will be smaller plants without the problems of waste. Why reject those now?" he said.
Italy, which is heavily dependent on imports for its power needs, rejected nuclear power in a referendum in 1987. Recent years have seen politicians and industry tentatively reopen the debate each year ahead of the winter.
Italy needs to diversify energy supplies -- especially for gas where imports total 85 percent of needs. Shortfalls in gas supplies from Russia hit the country in a harsh 2006 winter.
Last week, the country's biggest power producer Enel said there could be blackouts this year because Italy did not have the infrastructure for alternative supplies -- a push for reluctant regional administrations to open up to building of gas terminals.
In 2008, Italy is due to complete an 8 billion cubic meters offshore terminal for gas imports -- an alternative to its heavy use of pipelines, which Russia's move proved were unreliable.
Bersani said his policies for industry focused on innovation, on energy efficiency technology and sustainable transport, adding companies themselves had eagerly turned to photovoltaic energy and ecological buildings.
"In the next budget, incentives will be improved and it will be like that for years to come," Bersani said.
Cabinet undersecretary Enrico Letta told Il Messaggero newspaper that in rejecting nuclear power in 1987 "we lost a great opportunity."
Letta said gas "is the only way to avoid returning to oil," adding that "it is the cleanest (energy) source and the one to use if we want to limit ... oil and not overstretch the use of coal."
He said Italy could look at taking stakes in neighboring countries' nuclear power generators, such as France, Slovenia and the Czech Republic.
"We have to do it in a way ... that makes them a bit ours too," he said.
Enel used to own all nuclear power stations in Italy and has recently started building up its nuclear portfolio outside the country, taking stakes in plants in Slovakia and other central European countries. It will boost nuclear to 15 percent of its total output with its joint purchase of Spain's Endesa.
Letta said photovoltaic energy, which has recently been given incentives by the government, was another option, and together with wind and bio-fuels, could be developed in Italy's poorer south.
"My idea is to have a deal between the central government and the regions of the south ... taking a big bet on the south becoming a platform for renewable energy production," he said.