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Austria to sue the EU over Hungarian nuclear power plant expansion

Austria is planning to sue the European Commission over its decision to allow Hungary to expand its Paks Nuclear power plant.

The Austrian government said it did not view nuclear energy as the way to combat climate change, or as being in the common European interest. Austria, which shares a border with Hungary, prides itself on supporting clean energy and does not have any nuclear plants of its own.

The EU approved the expansion last year despite concerns that the project would extend Russia’s influence over Hungary’s energy policy. Russia’s Rosatom is providing a €10bn (£8.8bn) loan for the project. 

Paks currently has four small Russian-built VVER 440 reactors with a combined capacity of about 2,000 megawatts (MW). These were built between 1982 and 1987 and will be decommissioned between 2023 and 2037. The two new blocs will double the plant’s capacity and Hungary aims to start construction on the reactors this year, with the first facility expected set for completion in 2025.

Paks currently generates more than 50 per cent of the electrical power generated in the country and meets more than 40 per cent of its electric consumption.

“We in the government have agreed that there are sufficient reasons to sue [the Commission],” a spokesman for Austrian Sustainability Minister Elisabeth Koestinger said. “EU assistance is only permissible when it is built on common interest. For us, nuclear energy is neither a sustainable form of energy supply, nor is it an answer to climate change.”

When EU state aid regulators approved the project, they said that Hungarian authorities had agreed to several measures to ensure fair competition.

The deadline for filing a suit to challenge the executive EU Commission’s decision at the European Court of Justice is 25 February, the spokesman said. In a majority of such complex cases, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has supported the Commission.

Austria launched a similar legal action against the European Commission in 2015 over its backing of British plans for the development of the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant.

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