“The day after the first nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan, Girogio Valerio and Vittorio De Basi - President and Managing Director of Edison - asked Mario Silvestri to investigate the possible future development of nuclear energy. Sivestri was joined by Professor Giuseppe Bolla and his two young assistants, Giorgio Salvini and a 27-year ole researcher called Carlo Salvetti. In the spring of 1946, Salvini and Salvetti proposed a three-step research programme. The first step was to create a group of research experts. The next step was to build a zero-power atomic battery, like the one CP-1 developed by Fermi, in Chicago, in 1942. The final step was to build a mini reactor, “made in Italy.”
At that time, the peace treaty that put a final end to World War II was being finalized in Paris. In September 1946, Bolla, Silvestri, Salvini and Salvetti set off for Paris to find out whether, among the numerous clauses of the peace treaty there was anything that prohibited the development – for peaceful purposes - of nuclear. The four colleagues had no official mandate for being there and didn’t know who to speak to. Silvestri decided, for want of a better alternative, to contact a journalist he knew at the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, which was accredited to the official Italian delegation to the Paris peace treaty negotiations. The journalist put them into contact with a member of the Italian delegation, Ivanoe Bonomi, the ex-Prime Minister of Italy. The ‘group of four” visited Bonomi. Although Bonomi knew very little about what they were talking, he gave them a copy of the draft peace treaty. The treaty revealed that the Belgian delegation had insisted that a clause forbidding the military use of nuclear be included. The four Italian researchers told Bonomi to adopt a low profile on this point and only to discuss it if the intention was to forbid nuclear was extended to include peaceful applications of nuclear energy.
Once back in Italy, our four intrepid researchers lobbied the management of Edisonvolta and persuaded them that investing in nuclear would be a good business move. As a result, a special research company called CISE (Center for Information, Study and Expermentation) was formed, in Milan, in November 1946. Carlo Salvetti later recalled “I thought at the time that it was better not to reveal too much about what we were doing.”
The creation of CISE was the first step in the development a nuclear industry in Italy and it was private industry that started the ball rolling. Originally, three private companies were involved in creating the fledgling industry, Edisonvolta, FIAT and Cogne. Four more companies later joined the enterprise, Montecatini, the power generating company SADE (Societa Adriatica d’Elettricita), Pirelli and Falck.
From the outset, CISE was able to enlist the support of eminent physicists like Edoardo Amaldi (part of a Roman team led by Fermi), Gilberto Bernardini and Bruno Ferretti. Amaldi, Bernardini, Ferretti were joined on the Board of Directors of the newly-formed CISE by De Biasi and Gustavo Colonetti, president of the CNR (National research Centre). Unfiortunately, the CNR were not able to support the venture with funds for research. The final piece in the CISE jigsaw puzzle was the hiring of Felice Ippolito, a geologist who specialized in minerals. Ippolito brought with him the support of the steel company Terni, which was chaired by his father, and of the power generating companyr SME (Societa Meridionale d’Elettricita).
In 1952, the CNRN (the National Committee for Nuclear Research) was created. The CNRN then became known as the CNEN (the National Committee for Nuclear Energy). Finally, the CNEN became known as ENEA (Ente per le Nuove Tecnologie, l'Energia el'Ambiente). Prior to 1952, CISE was the only Italian research institute dedicated to the advancement of nuclear technologies and to the development of a genuinely independent nuclear research programme.
In 1957, anticipating the lack of funding that was inevitably going to affect CISE and limit its chances of developing nuclear technology, Carlo Salvetti decided to join the CNRN. Carlo was responsible for developing the Ispra Nuclear Centre and became its first Director General. Ispra later became part of Euratom and remains today one of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre facilities. Carlo was against the move from the start and strongly criticized the “handing over” of Ispra to Euratom.
Carlo Salvetti was then elected Vice president of the CNEN and entrusted with the job of rebuilding the organization. From 1963-1980, Carlo worked tirelessly at the CNEN. The President of the CNEN was also the Italian government’s Minister for Industry. Italy invested strongly in nuclear energy and these were undoubtedly the halcyon days of the Italian nuclear industry.
Professor Carlo Salvetti devoted sixty years of his life to the cause of nuclear research and to the development of the Italian nuclear industry and was still active when he died, in February last year. Thanks to his enormous contribution, a whole generation of physicists and nuclear engineers has been nurtured and trained. This is part of his enduring his legacy. His pioneering spirit, enthusiasm and dedication made him a unique figure in post-war Italian research.
Before he died, Carlo learnt that the current
Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berluscone, had advised that the
nuclear debate in Italy should be reopened after years of stagnation
following the Chernobyl-inspired moratorium on nuclear energy.
He must have thought “about time too…too little too