The Austrian government has declared that it will launch its much threatened legal challenge to the European Commission decision that facilitates the construction of Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant on Monday.

Chancellor Werner Faymann said after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, “We cannot accept that a technology such as this being portrayed through subsidies as being modern, sustainable and future-oriented.”

“This is a further important step in our anti-nuclear policy, which aims to make Europe nuclear-free in the long run. Subsidies should support new and modern technologies, which is not the case with nuclear energy,” he said.

While British interests maintain that the legal basis for the decision is sound and do not expect Austria to go through with a challenge, Vienna’s action could seriously damage UK energy policy by derailing the project for five to eight years.

The Austrian case is that nuclear should not qualify for state subsidies. The complaint, to be filed next Monday, “is also of symbolic value against nuclear power”, the centre-left chancellor said.

Despite opposition from activists and several member states, the European Commission approved the Hinkley Point project – where France’s EDF is to build two reactors – in October, after the UK modified funding plans for the £16bn deal.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “We are confident that the European Commission’s state aid decision on Hinkley Point C is legally robust and have no reason to believe that Austria will submit a challenge of any merit.”

Environmentalists see Hinkley Point as an unnecessary support of nuclear energy just when the use of renewables, such as wind and solar power, is beginning to take hold.

But the EU Commission insists that the choice of energy source, no matter how controversial, is strictly up to member states.

Dr Dorte Fouquet, Partner, BBH Brussels (above left) who has been advising Vienna on the matter of their objection to Britain’s flagship nuclear power project on the basis of State Aid contravention, told an audience at Platts Power Summit in central London at the end of April that if Vienna presses on with its challenge it could set back construction of the Hinkley Point C project for around eight years based on average case statistics.

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