USA nuclear submarines will leave the tiny island of La Maddalena in Sardinia by 2008.

The United States department of defence, which has used the island as a base since 1972, has notified the Italian defence ministry of its decision to close because the "changing international security scenario" means that the S. Stefano base is no longer strategically important to the United States.

La Maddalena island is a wildlife and sea reserve situated on the northeast tip of Sardinia and is famed for its natural beauty. Local Sardinians, government officials and environmentalists have long opposed the presence of the base, saying it represents a dangerous threat to the environment and public health.

A regional health department report published last April said the cancer rate among Sardinian males living near the island was disturbingly high. It quoted that bladder cancer rates among local males as 121 per cent higher than the overall island average. A French research institute sounded the alarm over the level of radioactive contamination in the seas around the US base which it found to be seven times higher than average . In 2003, after an incident where a nuclear submarine ran aground in shallow waters off the island, tests carried out by the institute in the immediate aftermath revealed that thorium levels in the water were some 400 times higher than normal.