Gadfly – A Nuclear Lesson for Big Oil

“It is a reasonable bet that the $24 billion Hinkley Point C nuclear power project in the U.K., due online in 2025, will neither be ready by 2025 nor cost just $24 billion.”

So begins a recent Bloomberg Gadfly energy article by Liam Denning


This is just a short News post, highlighting the piece by Liam, Bloomberg’s Energy columnist. I also contributed to it as he notes – mainly using material in the post Megafragility.

To avoid accusations of immodesty, I say this mainly to give a great article by Liam further airing, plus its a chance to refer you all again to the excellent Big is Fragile paper  –  it is an important work because it suggests there may be an intrinsic propensity to fail in giant megaprojects,

Whether this is because they are complex systems that are being managed inappropriately, or because complex systems (of this type and scale) cannot inherently be managed economically remains open for debate.

But the many documented megaproject failures over many decades, and hence the very, very likely disappointment, delay and possibly full-blown failure of Hinkley Point C, is a critical risk to the UK’s future energy requirements.

We will hear over the coming months that lessons learned from other nuclear projects will be used to ensure that, this time, the latest enterprise, Hinkley, will be a success.

Beware these statements.

Large-scale technical projects are complex, never-the-same-twice, engineering, social, political and commercial constructs, infinite in their special, one-off unique requirements, circumstances and priorities.

Each one is therefore a blank slate.

The team tasked with building Hinkley on-time and on-budget will refer to lessons learned often, but they will likely realise quickly they have, yet another, special, one-of-a-kind, giant-scale megaproject to deliver safely, efficiently and in the full glare of deep international scrutiny.

The carefully documented lessons learned of a sister project will potentially be of little lasting benefit: even on-the-surface close analogues will be significantly different in crucial ways, as various dimensions interplay.

Or, let’s leave it to the poets to put it more succinctly – with deep apologies to Tolstoy for the paraphrasing:

“Happy projects are all alike; every unhappy project is unhappy in its own way”