A top lawyer at Pillsbury, a global law firm who specialise in energy and natural resources, says that while the Austrian challenge to Hinkley Point C is difficult to understand, the main mistake is the selection of EDF and its European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) for the project.

Vincent Zabielski, Senior Lawyer in the firm’s Nuclear Energy practice in London was an engineer in the nuclear sector for 15 years before going into law. He says that considering what is at stake, and the expense to the British tax-payer, the UK government has approved the wrong reactor type.

“EDF is going to build, own and operate, with no EPC contract involved. Yet, they’ve proven they don’t know how to build these things. Finland has been a fiasco, Flamanville has been the same.”

“If you are going to build a reactor at Hinkley Point C, then the last one in the world I would consider is the EPR – some engineers have described it as unbuildable.”

Zabielski told Power Engineering International that the Advanced Pressurised Reactor, specifically the APR1400 would make more sense in the Hinkley case, with Korean rather than French expertise a more reliable fit.

“Barakah (in the UAE) is on time and on budget and it will probably be half the cost of Hinkley Point C.  From an EU standpoint I’d be challenging the decision to support the EDF project – that’s where the proper challenge should lie- the British rate payers not getting the right value for their pound.”

Last week the Austrian government served notice that it was not going to back down in legally challenging the decision facilitating Hinkley’s construction. Zabielski says the current and threatened delays are concerning in terms of the overall profitability of the project.

“Half the law firms in London reportedly are involved in some fashion in Hinkley Point C it’s a vast drain on the economy and every year its delayed that drain continues and the project becomes less viable as a project and then it will all have been just a waste of money, you’ll have no nuclear plant but you’ll have expended all of this money.”

“The problem with nuclear is its construction phase financing. Even under the best circumstances you are probably looking at seven years to build a plant. But the construction risks are the biggest risks and that’s what you are seeing here, with the pre-construction and the construction phases and the longer the delays, the less profitable this endeavour is going to be. In the end its costly for the UK tax payer. I would find someone who knows how to build a plant that is not first-of-a-kind. Build something people know is buildable “

For the moment the chief concern for the re-elected Conservative government and French state-owned EDF is the damage that could be inflicted by a fellow member state who could stymie the project’s progress for at least five years.

David Cameron’s government has threatened retaliatory measures in the event of the challenge being pursued, but the official word from Austria is that it will post its official lawsuit within the next two weeks.

“As an American the whole area of sovereignty is hard to get my mind around. That a country can decide to go ahead and address its own energy needs and another country can come in and effectively derail it, it’s shocking,” Zabielski told PEi. “Macroscopically it doesn’t make any sense to me either. Say you have a windy country and you want to build wind that makes sense, Poland has coal and goes for coal plants but if your country doesn’t have a lot of resources, nuclear makes sense. So this idea of a common interest – I think the common interest is having a stable electricity supply across the EU and not necessarily how you achieve that.”

This is an excerpt of a longer interview with Vincent Zabielski, which can be viewed here.