June 13 was a remarkable day for Italy and for all those trying to get their governments to move away from nuclear energy. People in Italy defied expectations of a low turnout and came out to cast their vote for a nuclear free future at the referendum.
To be valid, a referendum in Italy requires more than 50% turn-out. This was the first time this figure was surpassed since 1995. The referendum saw a 57% turn-out and 95% voted against nuclear energy.
It was a big day for Greenpeace activists and other civil society groups in Italy, who worked for months to mobilise people to come and vote against nuclear energy. The turn out and the result was a victory for them as well. This referendum also serves as an example for countries still chasing nuclear energy.
This was not the first time Italians said no to nuclear energy. In 1987, the country had gone for a referendum on nuclear power, this time after the Chernobyl disaster. At that time, Italy was one of the first nations to halt nuclear power production.
In 2008, Prime Minister Berlusconi overturned this decision. Later he asked France to help with the construction of four new nuclear plants, which were to be completed in 2020. Post Fukushima, the PM announced a one year pause in the country’s nuclear plans. He planned to revive it after the ‘passion’ against nuclear died out. The results of the referendum however will not allow this to happen.
Along with Germany, Italy has now become the second country to say an absolute no to nuclear energy. Switzerland’s Upper House will be casting a decisive vote on this issue in September. The Lower House has already given a majority vote against nuclear energy. Japan too has said that it is open to consider a nuclear phase out after a thorough evaluation of its current installations.
With this decision, Italy will now be looking at making optimum use of renewable energy sources to meet its energy needs. People in Italy took a decision looking at Chernobyl earlier and Fukushima this time. On both occasions they chose their safety over nuclear power. Most importantly the decision was taken by the people and their will has prevailed, like it should in a democracy.
Image: In the run-up to the referndum, Greenpeace activists in Italy hung a huge banner from San Marco’s tower in Venice. The banner says, "ITALY, STOP NUCLEAR, VOTE YES." © Greenpeace/Matteo Nobili.