OK, so HMG is hell-bent on Sizewell C, to the extent that they are kissing the Frenchman's arse to get it done. Since last week's announcement there has only been bad news from France, on Flamanville and the operations of the existing French fleet. This follows upon well over a decade of nothing but bad news on the EPRs; so why SZC will be any better, no man can tell. If ministers had half a wit, but were still that determined to go ahead, they'd be striking a much harder bargain than appears to be the case - and experience tells us the actual bargain will be even worse than anything that's ever made public prior to the inevitable public inquiry that will follow when everything goes pear-shaped. (For a modest fee, I offer to act as commercial consultant in the matter.)
Even if were to be concluded on intelligent commercial terms, literally nobody would dare hazard a guess as to when this chunky bit of capacity would come on line. That's pretty dreadful for long-term planning in a perilously-balanced sector of crucial national importance; and gives the lie to the "only nukes deliver predictable baseload electricity at scale" line, which is about all EDF has to offer.
The question therefore arises: why in the name of Hell is HMG so bent on SZC?
Here are three answers:
- Keynesian job creation. That's the explanation I have always favoured. You can see the attraction of HPC, for example: a project creating thousands of fairly decent civil engineering jobs (albeit the workforce holed up in portakabin hotels in the middle of Zummerset is not a particularly happy body of men) that drags on for year after year, being paid for by the French & Chinese, at their ultimate risk. RAB-financed SZC, though, looks to be under-written by HMG and paid for concurrently on electricity bills - a rather different equation.
- Support for the UK nuclear deterrent. They bang on about this at great length at SPRU (Sussex University), essentially suggesting that the civil nuke programme is tacitly subsidising the military. Maybe: it's not something I've ever studied: and I'm instinctively suspicious of deep-state conspiracy theories. But the logic is obvious enough: you can take a look for yourself.
- A new one: getting HMG off the legal hook. So I now add this 3rd explanation: HMG can use SZC as something rather concrete** they can adduce in front of the judge as evidence they are actually doing something - however crass. I've written here before about the stupidity of legislating for targets like Net Zero 2050 by making them "legally binding". It simply invites court actions by the Green Blob, and indeed the courts gratify it by entertaining them, and sometimes finding in their favour. Just last week, the High Court agreed that HMG's NZ2050 strategy was too woolly and has given it a few months to sort it out (plus costs for the Blob). This is of course bloody ridiculous, but what does anyone expect?