Rome

Govt happy with decision to keep ILVA steel plant open

Court rules Taranto plant can operate during clean-up

Govt happy with decision to keep ILVA steel plant open

(ANSA) - Rome , August 8 - The decision to keep the troubled ILVA steel plant in Taranto operating is a "balanced" one that takes account of the local community's need for jobs and health concerns, Labour Minister Elsa Fornero said Wednesday. She was commenting after the company said a court ruling on Tuesday makes it possible for Europe's largest steel plant to keep running while essential upgrades in order to meet regulatory requirements. This "balanced decision," will mean ILVA can "have a factory without affecting the health of citizens," Fornero told Rai radio. "This ruling means everyone must be commitment to collaborate... to ensure that the clean-up operation can swiftly restore some calm to all those many families who depend on working at ILVA". A court in July had ordered the company to halt parts of its operations, which prosecutors say have endangered workers and nearby residents with fumes and dust particles since 1995. On Tuesday, another court partly upheld that decision to overhaul portions of the ILVA steelworks in Taranto, and to hold its former presidents and ex-director under house arrest after evidence of long-standing toxic pollution was found last month. But the court also reversed an order by prosecutors last month to close parts of the plant - an order which had sparked protests among its 12,000 workers and antagonized Italy's biggest labour unions. The court also named current ILVA President Bruno Ferrante as the administrator to oversee the impounded portions of the plant. That will include 336-million-euro clean-up plan. He later told a news conference that this was essentially a reprieve for the plant, as it must be kept running for the upgrades to be carried out safely. "We should no longer use the word 'closure' to say that a factory is improving its safety conditions and is reducing its environmental impact," Ferrante said. Union leaders called for cooperation on Wednesday. "We were very worried, now we can go towards a more comforting situation - but we must all work together," said CISL head Raffaele Bonanni. Closing the ILVA plant and eliminating jobs would have devastated the community of Taranto, which is struggling like the rest of Italy to deal with high unemployment, recession, and the European economic crisis. Environment Minister Corrado Clini said he hopes ILVA will now stop complaining about the costs of improvements, and clean up its act. But, in an interview with the online newspaper Fatto Quotidiano, Clini said that he would "certainly not" want his family to live near the operation. "Theoretically, it is possible to minimize (polluted) dust from spreading to the neighbourhood... but in practice, it is not easy," he said. Last year ILVA produced 8.5 million tonnes of steel, nearly 30% of Italy's total steel production. Over the medium- to long-term, Italy must decide on what kind of investment it must make if it is to maintain a vibrant steel industry, Fornero said in the radio interview. "You have to see if there are the resources in Italy so this industry can continue," she said. "We need to work in a medium-term perspective to ensure that Italy does not lose this industry".

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