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Austria starts lawsuit against EU Commission over UK nuclear programme

07 July 2015

Austria launched a legal action on July 6 against the European Commission over its support for UK plans for the £16 billion ($24.9 billion) development of a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. Austria, which is pressing ahead with an ambitious green energy programme, says the Commission decision goes against the EU's aim to support renewable energy.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann

"Subsidies exist to support new and modern technologies which are in the interest of all EU states. This does not apply in any way to nuclear power," Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said in a statement. "Nuclear power plants are dangerous, expensive and -- compared with ... wind, hydro and solar energy -- neither economically nor ecologically competitive," he added.

The project, to be built by French utility EDF with as yet unspecified Chinese support, is an important part of UK plans to replace ageing nuclear power and coal plants over the coming decade while reducing carbon emissions. EDF has not committed to a definite investment decision there but has invested significantly in preparatory activities at the site.

The Commission approved the British plan to guarantee the price of power from its first new nuclear project in decades last October, despite strong opposition from some Commissioners. Environmental groups and nine German and Austrian utilities selling renewable energy have also said they are launching legal action against state aid for Hinkley Point C.

The action has Austrian parliamentary approval, with the support of all the country's political parties, and follows a decision of the Council of Ministers of 22 June, he added.

On 6 June Faymann declared that the action against Hinkley would be intended as a "deterrent to investors, not only in Britain but throughout Europe" and "a further step in [Austria's] anti-nuclear policy, whose long-term objective is a nuclear-free Europe."

The UK government has played down the legal threat.

"The UK is confident that the European Commission’s State aid decision on Hinkley Point C is legally robust and has no reason to believe that Austria has submitted a challenge of any merit," a spokeswoman for Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change said.

Another shadow over the project, which will produce electricity at twice the current UK price, is the current technical enquiry by French nuclear regulators into alleged problems with the Areva EPR reactors that were to have been used at Hinkley.

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