“Renewables, nuclear, clean fossil fuels…are the trinity of low carbon and the future of energy in Britain. What would be fatal is to pick and choose between them. All of them should be part of our energy mix”, said Ed Miliband, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, introducing the UK government’s comprehensive and ambitious Low Carbon Transition Plan (although it should be recognised that a significant portion of the 21% emissions reduction claimed since 1990 is an unintended consequence of the dash for gas that arose from the previous administration’s privatisation policies).

The commendable diversity in energy supply that the Transition Plan strives for is something that we at MPS greatly support. As an article in this issue (pp 28-32) shows it has also become a driver behind ENEL’s very impressive coal projects at Torrenord (close to completion) and Porto Tolle (awaiting a “construction decree”). “We have too many combined cycle plants”, said Leonardo Arrighi of ENEL at the recent MPS/VIBevents New Build Europe conference, held in Munich.

In terms of emissions of “conventional” pollutants Torrenord can be considered a benchmark project, the figures presented by Leonardo Arrighi for NOx, SOx and particulates being extraordinarily low (the latter reflecting very good experience with fabric filters). But neither carbon capture or even carbon capture readiness were much considered in the design of that plant, on which construction started in 2004. A very different regime will apply at Porto Tolle, where CCS will figure prominently – reflecting how CCS has become a sine qua non of clean coal in a remarkably short time.

Also remarkable for its speed is the way that the outlook for nuclear power has improved in recent times, notably in Italy, which abandoned it in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl accident and shut down all its nuclear reactors.

In April 2006 Fulvio Conti, ENEL’s CEO, summarised the company’s strategy thus: “Our aim is a balanced mix of energy sources, roughly equally split between coal, nuclear and renewables. Nuclear energy is cheap and environmentally friendly but we cannot have nuclear facilities in Italy yet, so are looking abroad.”

ENEL, which is 31.6% state-owned, has done a pretty good job at looking abroad and has successfully maintained nuclear power in its international portfolio, through activities in France (12.5% share in the Flamanville 3 EPR and options for the same share in subsequent EPRs), Spain (acquisition of Endesa, which has substantial PWR interests), Romania (9.15% share in the consortium looking at the feasibility of building Cernavoda 3 and 4), and Slovakia. The company has a 66% share in Slovenske Elektrarne, which has just embarked on the construction of Mochovce 3 and 4, one of the very few nuclear new build projects currently actually underway in Europe, and a couple of years ago rejoined the World Association of Nuclear Operators.

This is not bad for the national utility of a country that renounced nuclear energy in a 1987 referendum. And recent landmark legislation enacted in the Italian parliament paves the way for ENEL (in partnership with EDF) to resume nuclear projects in its home market, an historic turnaround of great significance to the world’s nuclear industry.

There are formidable challenges ahead, not least of which are putting the financing in place and overcoming local opposition to siting (the Italian government has only six months (until the end of the current parliament) to find locations and none of the four existing nuclear sites can be reused, which would seem to add to the problems). But the opening up of nuclear power as an option, coupled with the clean coal projects currently underway, should enable the Italians to move, in time, towards the low carbon trinity and achieve a better balance in their fuel mix.