Italy's return to nuclear power will boost its international prestige and allow it to meet engagements to reduce its emissions under the Kyoto protocol, the junior minister for energy said Wednesday.

"The return to nuclear power would allow Italy to increase its rank, role and prestige on an international level," Stefano Saglia said in a statement.

"It would also allow us to respect our engagements under the Kyoto protocol and improve and render more efficient the country's energy mix," he said.

The statement came on the 50th anniversary of the nuclear research centre of Casaccia near Rome. The Kyoto protocol agreement, which came into force in 2005 and runs out in 2012, aims to reduce greenhouse gases in the world.

The Italian government in February passed a decree allowing for the resumption of nuclear power despite widespread opposition to nuclear energy.

Italy renounced nuclear power in a referendum more than 20 years ago, after the Chernobyl disaster.