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Austrian leaders hail EU decision on nuclear power subsidies

VIENNA, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- Austrian leaders this week hailed an EU decision to exclude nuclear power from new guidelines for member states in establishing renewable energy subsides.

Austria, which derives most of its electricity from hydropower and other renewable sources, is phasing out nuclear power and key political leaders said Wednesday they were pleased with the European Commission's move to reject automatically including nuclear as a "low-carbon" technology in revamped environmental subsidy guidelines for member states.

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Instead, commissioners backed a measure that would consider nuclear subsidies only on a case-by-case basis after fierce protests from environmentalists and Germany, The European Voice reported.

Austria and Germany, which have committed to reducing nuclear in their energy mixes, wanted to exclude nuclear from the new subsidy regime, while EU members seeking to build more nuclear plants, such as Britain, France and the Czech Republic, pressed to include it.

EU Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia announced the decision during a European Parliament debate Tuesday in Strasbourg, France after it had received the backing of a the majority of commissioners, sources told the publication.

The new guidelines, which cover 2014-2020, are to be published in November. They have been praised as instrumental in shaping a European-wide strategy of delivering subsidies to renewable energy projects as the EU seeks to generate 20 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

In Vienna, the news was greeted with enthusiasm, the Austrian broadcaster ORF reported.

Upper Austria regional Environment Minister Rudolf Anschober, who started a petition signed by 27,000 Austrians opposing nuclear subsidies, called the decision a crucial victory in efforts to phase out nuclear power in Europe.

"(It is) a big success after Upper Austria's efforts triggered international resistance," Anschober, a member of the Austrian Green Party, said in a statement.

He predicted it the move would ultimately be a "death knell for nuclear power technology," but warned, "The nuclear states will not admit defeat. It must continue to be fought with full force."

Thomas Stelzer, chairman of the People's Party in the Upper Austrian parliament, likewise welcomed the decision, saying nuclear power doesn't need subsidies, but viable alternatives.

"This decision puts the expansion of nuclear power up against a clear barrier -- political and popular pressure have paid off," he said.

Meanwhile, Austrian lawmaker Gerda Weichsler Hauer of the Social Democratic Party said the EU move was the right decision because it means Brussels will no longer support nuclear power "under the guise of ecology."

In the run-up to the action, Environment Minister Niki Berlakovich also urged the commissioners to "clearly reject" nuclear subsidies.

"Austria's position is clear -- we do not encourage or subsidize strictly nuclear power plants because they are not sustainable," he said last week.

"Subsidizing nuclear power is a step backwards. Our goal must be to get out of nuclear and into purely renewable energies. This must also be the case for the European Commission to create a sustainable energy system in Europe."

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