The authorisation by the European Commission of massive subsidies for the UK's Hinkley Point C nuclear project is an enormous set-back for the country's development of a sustainable and clean energy future. Not only that, it may well stall the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency in large parts of Europe for the next decade.
Strong nuclear lobbies in countries like Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia are pinning their hopes for survival on the Hinkley project. The chance to funnel large sums from state coffers and consumers' pockets to these megalomaniac pet projects will cause frantic activity in those countries where old, centralised energy systems are still popular with politicians.
Plans for 19 new nuclear reactors in Europe are based in the east of the European Union. Excluding the 12 reactors planned in the UK, there are none so far in Western Europe. It's hard to believe that even multi-billion euro hand-outs could change the atmosphere in countries like Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, who are all phasing out their nuclear fleets.
There is a small risk that this will lead to new operating nuclear reactors. Nuclear power has priced itself out of the market in Europe with massive construction costs (5000 € / kWe or more). It's simply impossible to find sufficient financial backing unless countries are willing to sell themselves out completely to Russia's Rosatom and Vladimir Putin's financial and energy moguls, as Hungary and Finland are currently doing.
More disturbing is the threat of the discussion about energy efficiency and clean (and cheaper) renewable energy sources being pushed into the margins again. Europe needs to start urgently harvesting its abundant reserves of clean energy and plans for new nuclear reactors stand in the way.
The one non-nuclear country in the midst of it all, Austria, has announced it will fight the Commission decision in the European Court. It stands a good chance, because this deal breaks too many EU rules. As my colleague, Greenpeace EU legal adviser Andrea Carta, says: "It's such a distortion of competition rules that the Commission has left itself exposed to legal challenges. There is absolutely no legal, moral or environmental justification in turning taxes into guaranteed profits for a nuclear power company whose only legacy will be a pile of radioactive waste."