VIENNA (AFP) - Austria said on Monday it has filed a legal challenge at the European Court of Justice against European Union-granted state subsidies for a new nuclear power plant in Britain.
"Subsidies are there to support modern technologies that lie in the general interest of all EU member states. This is not the case with nuclear power," Chancellor Werner Faymann said in a statement.
Despite opposition from activists and several member states, the European Commission approved the Hinkley Point C project in south-west England last October after Britain modified funding plans for the deal.
Initially projected to cost £16 billion ($33.6 billion), EU officials now estimate the deal will require £24.5 billion.
Austria argued that the bid was in breach of European law and risked distorting the energy market.
In particular, it criticised the British government's intention to guarantee an elevated 35-year fixed electricity rate to French energy group EDF, which would be in charge of building the two new reactors in Somerset.
However, EDF insisted on Monday the project was "fair and balanced".
"The agreements... were approved by the European Commission following a robust and lengthy investigation. EDF Energy is confident that these agreements will continue to withstand any challenge," the company told AFP.
Austria's move comes after an alliance of 10 German and Austrian energy companies announced they also planned to file a legal challenge at the ECJ against Hinkley Point.
Opponents see the project as an unnecessary support of nuclear energy just when the use of renewables, such as wind and solar power, is starting to take hold in Europe.
But the EU Commission insists that the choice of energy source, no matter how controversial, is strictly up to member states.
The British government has repeatedly stressed that Hinkley will be vital for the country's energy security as most of the existing nuclear stations were due to close before 2023.
"New nuclear power stations will also be key to cutting the carbon emissions from Britain's electricity industry in the UK's future low carbon energy mix," the government said after the EC gave the green light for the project.
But Austrian Environment Minister Andrae Rupprechter said on Monday that nuclear energy was no longer able to "survive economically" and should "not be artificially resuscitated through state subsidies".
"Instead of funding unsafe and costly energy forms that are outdated, we have to support Europe's energy turnaround with the expansion of renewable energies," he said.
Austria has been a firm opponent of atomic power since the late 1970s when its government passed a bill prohibiting the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity.
More than three-quarters of Austrian electricity come from renewable sources, which also make up 34 per cent of its total energy production.
However, Austria is surrounded by nations keen to expand their nuclear facilities, including Hungary and the Czech Republic.
Austria's Green Party said it hoped the legal challenge would act as a deterrent for its nuclear neighbours.
"The complaint against Hinkley Point C sets an important sign," the party said in a statement.
"Financial support for the highly dangerous nuclear industry would give a fatal signal - also in the direction of the nuclear plants...which stand right on Austria's borders."