The spectacle of the disastrous attempts to build a new generation of nuclear reactor - the European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) - and EDF's apparent desire to carry on despite the increasing likelihood that the financial losses from this will destroy EDF as a going business (see my earlier blog posts on this) raise the question: If this is true, then why do they carry on with this apparent financial suicide? The answer can be analysed through something well known in political science: rational choice theory. This says that actors will pursue their self interest so that they can achieve the best outcome in a given set of circumstances that define their dilemmas. This can often lead to outcomes that are worse for everyone, despite people apparently pursuing their 'rational' self interest (eg see 'prisoners dilemma').
The set of choices facing the leaders of EDF appear to them as follows: a) abandon Hinkley C and effectively end EDF's visions as being leaders of a world (or even French) nuclear resurgence. Ok, why not? Well, the leaders believe they would have to resign! b) carry on spending money on Hinkley C and hope that not only the French Government will bail them out of any further difficulties (mounting up now, with the french and Finnish reactors going pear shaped) but that somehow the British project will come right. But what seems more likely is that the French Government will end up pouring billions into the project, as well as needing to salvage the Finnish and French EPRs still being built.
Now choice a) involves, to them, the certainty of loss of face and resignation.
choice b) involves a probability of disaster (and eventual resignation), but the faint hope that they still might win out (and regardless they remain in power for a while longer).
Of course the interests of the French state are clearly to avoid losing billions of euros, so rationally, of the two, option a) would be better.
But the French state is not independent. The problem with EDF is not that they are controlled by the state, but that they seem to control the state. Even to the extent that the French state is compelled to spend billions of euros providing the British with nuclear power stations! (which may or may not work very well). The French Ministry of Finance is currently holding out against attempts by EDF to ensure that the French Government 'immunise' EDF against losses from its project in France (and I assume the Finnish and projected UK projects), but EDF seems prepared to just go ahead and assume it will eventually cave in.
How do we get out of this? In option b) eventually the French state will have to draw a line somewhere - it will not be able to afford to carry on hurling countless billions down a bottomless pit. This will damn nuclear power even more severely than abandoning Hinkley C at this stage. But why do we have to suffer this trauma? After all it will waste so much resources.
Personally, I say to Vincent de Rivaz and Jean-Bernard Levy, the bosses of EDF, I've nothing against you, I wish you well, please carry on with your jobs, but please make an appeal to do so based on renunciation of the obviously bankrupt EPR path you are now following. Say how you are going to put investments into renewable energy and advanced energy efficiency technologies.