IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Enhancing Nuclear Safety


Research units

Human and Social Sciences Laboratory (LSHS)

LSHS is an IRSN laboratory set up in 2012. It carries out research on human, organizational and social factors that may affect nuclear safety. It works are driven by a multidisciplinary approach spanning the Human and Social Sciences (Ergonomics, Sociology, Social Psychology and Management Science), aimed at developing knowledge and skills to support IRSN's expert in the course of safety assessments.








The major accidents that have occurred in the history of the civil nuclear industry - Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Tokai-Mura and Fukushima - have highlighted the fact that human, organizational and social factors play a central role in the management of nuclear safety. The radiotherapy accident at Epinal hospital as well as the explosion at the AZF chemical plant also served as a reminder that these factors have a crucial impact on the safety of patients, workers and the population. Furthermore, the significance of these factors is also demonstrated in experience feedback on daily operating at nuclear facilities.

IRSN therefore needs to draw on knowledge in the Human and Social Sciences if it is to respond to the fundamental question asked in its scientific strategy, encompassing the fields of nuclear safety, security and radiation protection: “How can we better evaluate the safety and security impact of human activities relating to the operation of nuclear facilities and equipment that uses ionizing radiation and to the governance and regulation of nuclear risks? The challenge involves improving safety management at nuclear facilities (including power reactors, medical facilities, etc.) and reducing the risks of major accidents, and, at the same time, improving radiation protection measures for workers and the population. Research at the LSHS is conducted with an eye to ensuring that human and financial resources are focused on subjects of major concern to society.

The knowledge developed, by means of exchanges and partnerships with academics and stakeholders in the nuclear industry, is used to improve IRSN's work in drawing up assessments and opinions. It is also disseminated to every stakeholder working or interested in nuclear risk governance and forms a vital source of information for discussions on contemporary issues.


Research areas


The scientific issues dealt with at LSHS can be divided into four key areas of research, as follows:


 Facility operating in normal situation


The purpose of research in this area is to provide IRSN with the concepts and methods it needs to assess how far the technical, organizational and management procedures implemented by operators serve to ensure that facility operating safety is constantly improved. It also aims to identify the factors likely to facilitate, or, on the contrary, obstruct the forward planning, scheduling and coordination of activities and management of relations with contractors, activities inherent in managing complex projects, including facility design, modification and dismantling projects.


Some past and ongoing projects:


  • The RESOH Chair: set up in March 2012 by the Ecole des Mines in Nantes, and backed by AREVA, Naval Group (formerly DCNS) and IRSN, along with Andra since 2017, this research Chair studies organizational and human aspects relating to safety within co-activity and subcontracting networks in high-risk industrial facilities throughout their life cycle. LSHS is actively involved in RESOH Chair activities, and sits on its steering committee. Project supervisor: Alexandre Largier.


  • The "HALDEN REACTOR PROJECT" (HRP) is an international research project affiliated to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA - OECD) and led by the Institute For Energy Technology (IFE). It brings together a large number of partners and focuses on operating safety and reliability at nuclear power plants. IRSN has been one of the partners involved in this project for many years and LSHS supervises research under the "Man Technology Organization" (MTO) program. Project supervisor: Céline Poret.


  • The COSEA Project (Co-activity and safety in practice) aims to analyze the issues involved when different companies work simultaneously at the same site, in particular in highly-restrictive high-risk settings. It focuses more specifically on co-activity between operating areas and construction areas, aiming to propose ways of reducing the associated risks and developing tools to manage them. IRSN's partners working on this project are Sciences-Po Paris and the RATP. Project lead: Elsa Gisquet.


  • The SAFETY CULTURE Project: The concept of Safety Culture, which emerged following the accident at Chernobyl, is often used in a negative and vague manner, to the point where it becomes meaningless. This project aims to review the concept of Safety Culture as applicable in various disciplines, with a view to integrating it more effectively in operational situations, and especially for the purposes of IRSN's assessment activities. Project lead: Elsa Gisquet. A report on the project has been published and can be downloaded here (PDF).



Emergency response management


Research carried out in this area specifically focuses on the dynamics of human and organizational relations that arise in emergency response management subsequent to an industrial or nuclear accident. This entails understanding how to deal with unforeseen circumstances and hazards, and how to foster cooperation between those involved in managing the emergency response.


Some past and ongoing projects:


  • The EDGE Project (Interfaces between Experts and Decision-makers in emergency response management situations in high-risk industries), conducted in partnership with INERIS, aims to understand how emergency response organizations foster cooperation between different groups of stakeholders in dealing with an unforeseen event that is potentially hazardous to the population. More specifically, the project seeks to understand how they encourage national and local public authorities to draw on technical expertise in dealing with an industrial accident. Project lead: Elsa Gisquet.


  • The human and organizational aspects of the fukushima-daiichi accident project: The accident at Fukushima-Daiichi raised questions about the ability of organizations to deal with unprecedented accident situations. The project aims to understand the strain on high-risk organizations in a context destabilized by an exceptionally severe unforeseen event. More specifically, this entails examining the extent to which agencies are able to act and coordinate with one another in an emergency situation. Project lead: Elsa Gisquet. A report on the project has been published and can be downloaded here (PDF).


  • Project on emergency response exercises: the aim of this project is to examine the importance of simulation exercises in planning emergency response management. The analysis encompasses emergency preparedness plans developed by the public authorities and the major operators (EDF and AREVA), emergency response organization, and the exercises carried out regularly to test the level of preparedness among the various players involved and the systems set in place. This project forms Action 4 of the AGORAS project led by the Center for the Sociology of Organizations (CSO) at Science Po Paris and in which IRSN is involved. Project supervisor: Elsa Gisquet.



Post-accident situation management


Research on post-accident management aims to contribute to the definition of the public service Expert's role in a post-accident situation, and, more specifically, of the type of expertise required to support decision-making at the level of local, prefecture and national bodies, as well as how it interrelates with other forms of expertise. This also entails contributing to the definition of mechanisms set up to assist the relevant agencies in planning their post-accident management. This research explores concepts such as accountability (how do we ensure that institutions are accountable to the public?), transparency and trust.


One of the ongoing projects:


  • The SHINRAI project is a French and Japanese project coordinated by IRSN. The partners involved are Sciences-Po Paris and the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech). It aims to analyze the post-accident situation in Japan using a multidisciplinary approach, with a view to helping IRSN define its role as France's public expert in the event of a nuclear accident. Project lead: Christine Fassert.



Nuclear risk governance


The research conducted on the subject of nuclear risk governance is aimed at improving our knowledge of expert assessment activities and of how they are influenced by risk regulation systems and by the relations between the various organizations and stakeholders involved in such regulation system (operators, safety authorities, representatives of civil society). This entails identifying the social, organizational and human factors that may impact on the scientific robustness of expert safety and radiation protection assessments, with a view to assess and explain its possible limitations or biases more clearly. This also entails identifying the conditions that foster the development of interaction between experts and the representatives of civil society.


Some ongoing projects:


  • Thesis on the development of knowledge relative to serious accidents: this aims to analyze, from a socio-historic perspective, the development of knowledge relative to severe accidents (also known as core melt accidents), the emergence of corium as object (reactor core components that melt) and the various modes for managing it, including the In-Vessel Melt Retention (IVMR) project led by IRSN. Thesis in the field of Sociology of Technologies and Sciences being carried out by Maël Goumri and supervised by Soraya Boudia (Université Paris Descartes).


  • Thesis on the dynamics involved in risk regulation regimes applied to flooding risk-related instruments: aiming to characterize risk regulation systems related to regulatory instruments. Thesis in the field of Management Sciences being carried out by Michaël Mangeon, supervised by Frédérique Pallez (Mines Paris-Tech).


​Both these research projects come under Action 1 of the AGORAS project, coordinated by Olivier Chanton.


  • Thesis on developments in the integration of seismic risk: this research aims to characterize developments resulting from stress tests, including an examination of the definition and implementation of the "hardened safety core"*, seen as part of a history of scientific, technical, practical and regulatory developments in taking seismic risk into account to improve safety at French nuclear facilities. Thesis in the field of Sociology being carried out by Mathias Roger and supervised by Soraya Boudia (Université Paris Descartes). This research comes under Action 2 of the AGORAS project, coordinated by Christine Fassert.


  • The DEROG Project (changes to the safety frame of reference and associated risk regulatory tools): this sociology-based research investigates a short-term regulatory procedure, which consists of requesting an exception to the General Operating Rules relating to safety in pressurized water reactors (PWRs). It aims to characterize assessment practices and inter-organizational relations that develop within and around this procedure, raising questions as to its consequences and thereby improving it. Project lead: Olivier Chanton


*The concept of a "hardened safety core" aims to ensure that the structures and equipment installed to perform basic safety functions at nuclear facilities and for emergency response management at the site are built to withstand extreme events. This implies protecting the equipment required to manage safety functions in the event of significantly more extreme events than those used as the facility design basis. Extreme events include earthquake, flooding, extreme temperatures, weather and precipitation (snow, wind, lightning, hail, tornado, etc.). They have been established in line with significantly more rigorous requirements (see ASN's definition - in French)



Research team


François Jeffroy, PhD in Ergonomics, Director of LSHS

Alexandre Largier, PhD in Sociology, Assistant Director of LSHS

Olivier Chanton, PhD in Social Psychology

Christine Fassert, PhD in Sociology

Elsa Gisquet, PhD in Sociology

Céline Poret, PhD in Ergonomics

Maël Goumri, PhD student in Sociology

Michael Mangeon, PhD student in Management Science

Mathias Roger, PhD student in Sociology



Partnership and research networks


LSHS works in collaboration with many academic and industrial partners as part of as network that includes:


  • Scientific Management Center (CSG), Mines ParisTech
  • Center for the Sociology of Organizations (CSO), Sciences Po Paris/CNRS
  • Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers
  • ESSEC Business School
  • Université Paris 8
    Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) 
  • French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA)
  • NAVAL Group (formerly DCNS)
  • The RATP



The AGORAS project to improve governance of nuclear safety organizations and networks:

AGORAS is one of the projects selected by the French National Research Agency (ANR) in a call for research projects relating to nuclear safety and radiation protection launched following the Fukushima Daiichi accident. This research is organized according to two interrelated work packages: (1) to analyze and improve the integration of safety into inter-organization processes relative to reactor design and nuclear sites; (2) to analyze and improve inter-organization relations in nuclear emergency response management situations. Working on both packages alongside one another makes it possible to develop both an overall and a more detailed approach to nuclear risk management. The partners involved in the project are: the Institut Mines-Télécom Atlantique (project lead), the Scientific Management Center (CSG) at Mines ParisTech, the Center for the Sociology of Organizations at Science-Po Paris, and AREVA.

IRSN is coordinating Actions 1 and 2 of the project.

Action 1 aims to improve our understanding, based on a socio-historical analysis approach, of how those agencies tasked with the design and assessment of nuclear technology collectively define the risks and risk management throughout the design/demonstration/assessment process. Action 2 examines how the post-Fukushima context – and, more specifically, the results produced by agencies tasked with "confirmation assessments" - has challenged the practices, concepts and assessment models implemented.

IRSN is also involved in Action 4, which aims to examine the place of simulation exercises in planning emergency response management.


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Laboratoire des sciences humaines et sociales

BP 17
92262 Fontenay-aux-Roses Cedex


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