US to close nuclear sub base on Sardinia

Here's some good news that might appease the Sardinian separatists. But where will the base be relocating to, and will it similarly piss off the surly natives? From AFP via Turkish Press, Nov. 24 (emphasis added):

ROME – The United States is to close a military base on the Italian island of Sardinia now considered surplus to requirements for the defence of the Mediterranean, Italian Defence Minister Antonio Martino announced.

The base, on the La Maddalena archipelago on the northern tip of the island, is a leftover from the Cold War. The area is one of the most beautiful natural sites on Sardinia, facing the French island of Corsica, and environmentalists have long called for the base to be shut.

The news was given by Martino in a statement issued late on Wednesday but he did not say when the base would close. On Tuesday he had announced the withdrawal of US submarines stationed at the neighbouring islet of Santo Stefano.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had told Martino of the decision at a meeting in Washington at the start of the week.

"It is not only the submarines but the whole American base which will be transferred to another country," said the Italian minister, who will meet Sardinia's regional leader Renato Soru on Friday to discuss the impact of the pullout for the island, Italy's second largest after Sicily.

Italian Defence Undersecretary Salvatore Cicu said the United States had taken the decision "as a result of new geo-strategic demands concerning Mediterranean security, which are different to those of 30 years ago."

Some 3,000 US military personnel and their families are stationed on Sardinia, providing 162 jobs for local civilians.

Italy and the United States agreed the American military presence in Sardinia in 1972, at the height of the Cold War, though environmentalists have called for the closure of the base claiming it was polluting the area with radioactive substances.

The newspaper La Repubblica said Thursday the decision to close down the base was prompted by fears it was too vulnerable to a terrorist attack, recalling that the US military authorities had recommended closure shortly after the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

"It's impossible to distinguish an outboard (launch) packed with explosives from that of peaceful holidaymakers," the paper remarked.

"Local people will live in greater safety without the nuclear submarines," Soru said.

On October 25, 2003 a nuclear-powered submarine hit a reef in the Strait of Bonifacio, which separates Corsica and Sardinia. Officially it was reported the incident had no serious effect on the environment but it intensified opposition to the base on both islands.

Sardinia, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has a vacation villa, organised a referendum in 1988 without success to call for the closure of the base.

Several studies have shown an abnormally high level of uranium and plutonium pollution in the waters surrounding the islet of Santo Stefano, home to the nuclear submarines.

As late as last month there was talk of extending the base and some 400 Corsican and Sardinian antinuclear and environmentalist activists demonstrated nearby to call for the base to be closed.

Reaction among the local people varied between relief at the ending of such an unwelcome installation and worry about the future.

Soru wants the facilties left behind by the Americans to be turned over to tourism.

"There is everything we need to create the biggest reception centre for large pleasure craft in the Mediterranean," he said.

Additional US bases in Italy are located at Aviano and Vicenza in the northeast, Livorno in the west, Gaeta and Naples in the south and Sigonella on the southern island of Sicily.

See our last post on Italy.