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Italy looks to EU for nuclear guidance

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(ROME) - Italy said on Wednesday it is looking to the European Union for a decision on the future of nuclear power as the country considers halting its own programme in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Rome has proposed a halt to its plans to build nuclear power stations and Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani said that a decision will not be made until the EU takes a "joint decision" on the matter.

Nuclear power can only return to the agenda when the circumstances of the Fukushima accident are completely clear, and when a shared decision is made across the whole of Europe, he told daily newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

"Fukushima has shown us that major accidents are possible. I don't say that voluntarily, having said that I was and remain pro-nuclear... but a pro-nuclear who knows very well that nuclear power is not culturally acceptable at the moment."

Italy declared a temporary moratorium on its nuclear plans after the catastrophe in Japan, though Italians are still set to vote in a June referendum on whether to continue with plans to build atomic power stations.

An initial vote will take place on Wednesday amid wide public opposition to a return to nuclear power, which was abandoned after a referendum in 1987 following the Chernobyl disaster.

Romani said a new energy strategy spanning the next 20 years would be set out later this year.

Italy's nuclear programme was a key part of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's manifesto in his 2008 election victory.

Parliament adopted a bill that opened the way to construction of atomic power stations from 2014 to cut the price of electricity bills and make Italy less dependent on energy imports.

As the extent of Japan's nuclear crisis became clear, Berlusconi said last week he was considering extending the moratorium, because "one year will not be long enough to reassure Italians" that the nuclear option is safe.

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