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Luxembourg Supports Austria’s Lawsuit against Hungary’s Planned Paks Power Plant Upgrade

Ábrahám Vass 2018.03.06.

Speaking on the sidelines of a summit of EU environment ministers in Brussels, Luxembourg’s Minister of Environment Carole Dieschbourg announced that his country would support Austria’s case against the upgrade of Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant.

Speaking with her Austrian counterpart Elisabeth Köstinger, Dieschbourg said it was important to prevent a renaissance of nuclear energy, and argued that no public money should be invested in nuclear energy. In February, Austria’s environment ministry said the country would lodge an appeal with the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the Paks upgrade. “The European Commission is sending the wrong message in energy policy if it approves state aid given to nuclear power plant construction without hesitation,” the ministry said. The EC cleared the Paks project, which is being financed with Russian credit, in the spring of 2017.

The EC’s spokesman for competition said the EU’s executive body would defend its approval of the Paks upgrade in court, fielding a question from a journalist at a daily press conference in Brussels on Monday. “Yes indeed, we of course will go to court and we will defend our decision, as we would expect,” said Ricardo Cardoso.

Both Luxembourg and Austria have long been known for their opposition to nuclear energy. In a 1978 referendum, Austrians  rejected plans to put the already built Zwentendorf plant into operation, and since then a law has prohibited the building and operation of nuclear power plants in the country. Austrians have also protested against the Czech Republic’s Temelín power plant. In Luxembourg, the 1970s energy crisis led the government to consider building a nuclear plant; however due to growing opposition, the project was quickly scrapped. Luxembourg has also declared its support for Austria in opposing the public funding of British nuclear power plant Hinkley Point C in Somerset, UK.

Ahead of the EC’s decision, Hungarian authorities had agreed to carry out a number of measures, such as to ensure market liquidity and to limit distortions of competition; in addition, the  CEO of Rosatom (the Russian company that is the contractor for the Paks upgrade project) has also insisted that the blocks will be up to the rigorous safety standards specified after the Fukushima disaster. In January, however, the Austrian government announced that it would launch a lawsuit against the EC’s decision. In addition, the project has had its share of critics in domestic politics as well. Green Party LMP intended to push for a referendum on the upgrade, although the National Election Office (NVB) ultimately rejected the party’s initiative. Expansion has been also criticized due to the Orbán government’s decision to classify Paks upgrade data for 30 years. Likewise, some critics have argued against the upgrade because they claim that it would be yet another example of the Orbán government cozying up to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Nevertheless, it is rather unlikely that the European Court of Justice will favor the Austrian appeal, as Reuters noted that in a majority of such complex cases, the ECJ favored the Commission.

The two new reactors aim to replace the four reactors currently operating at Paks, which were constructed in the 1980s and currently account for approximately 50% of Hungary’s domestic electricity production. According to predictions, they will double the plant’s capacity. Construction work is due to start this year with Russian financial support.



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