Context and research themes
The first challenge faced in developing the civil use of nuclear energy was technical, but the three major accidents (Three Miles Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima) which have marked the operation of nuclear power plants highlight the fact that human, organizational and social factors play a central role in ensuring nuclear safety. These factors include: the design of resources for supervision and control; safety management; the governance of nuclear risks; relations between the nuclear industry and society, etc.
In addition to the major accidents which have influenced the history of civil nuclear power, experience feedback from the daily operation of nuclear installations, as well as probabilistic safety studies that asses the relative weight of human actions in risk, stress the crucial importance of human and organizational factors in all questions of safety.
Consequently, the IRSN needs to acquire knowledge in the human and social sciences for the assessments it carries out as part of its public expert activities. For this reason a research laboratory dedicated to these fields was created in January 2012.
The research activities of the LSHS make use of several disciplines of the human and social sciences, such as ergonomics, sociology and social psychology, in a multidisciplinary approach which addresses the key issues identified by the IRSN in its technical assessments.
In general, the purpose of the laboratory's research activities is to characterize the organizational, human and social factors which may either generate or help to avoid or limit risks for the installations, the environment, humans and society in general.
Areas of research
The research activities of the LSHS focus on three main areas:
This is the research area which most directly supports of the institute's assessments. It particularly addresses questions relating to operators' management of specific risks arising from: the use of subcontractors; the appropriation of technologies, in particular when different generations of technologies coexist within an installation; and the management of crisis situations (influence of stress, resilience phenomena, etc).
This research area also aims to study the conditions for efficient safety management, looking at questions such as the implementation of instructions that are consistent with daily activities (regulated safety and managed safety) or the integration of cultural dimensions (safety culture).
This research area addresses the inter-organizational dimension of the governance of nuclear safety. In particular, it examines the role played by the trifecta of operator, safety authority and public expert, and its influence on decision-making, both in normal operating situations and in the management of emergency situations (particularly through crisis exercises).
It also addresses the cognitive characteristics of safety assessments, and more precisely the processes of interpretation and the kinds of reasoning followed by engineers, individually or collectively, in order to assess whether risks are acceptable or unacceptable.
This area offers a broader perspective on the problems of accountability (how does an institution report to the public?), transparency and trust. In particular, it looks at the systems for public participation in decisions related to nuclear risk and at the role of the IRSN as a public expert, particularly in the post-Fukushima context.
Specialities and researchers
Laboratory manager: François Jeffroy, ergonomist
"Organizational and Human Factors in operational safety": Hélène Faye, engineer and ergonomist; Elsa Gisquet, sociologist; Sarah Carminati, PhD student (Paris VIII University)
“Governance of risks”: Olivier Chanton, psycho-sociologist
“Nuclear risk and society”: Christine Fassert, sociologist
Research partnership and networks
The LSHS participates actively in the activities of the "RESOH" (Safety, Organization and Human Research) research project formed in March 2012 by the Nantes School of Mining Engineers, with the support of Areva, the DCNS and the IRSN. This project is devoted to the study of the organizational and human aspects of safety in co-contracting or subcontracting networks in high-risk industries, throughout the life cycle of the installations (design, construction, operation and dismantling), in both normal and emergency situations and crisis management. The LSHS is a member of the chair's steering committee.
The LSHS is involved in the shared "Nuclear, Risks and Society" project which was set up in 2013 by the CNRS as part of the French NEEDS programme (Nuclear: Energy, Environment, Waste, Society), whose research topics are similar to those of the laboratory.
At European level, the LSHS is involved in the preparation of the STATIC (Socio-Technical Approach to Improving Crisis Management) project, under the aegis of the NUGENIA association. The principal partners of this project, coordinated by Norway's IFE, are VTT (Finland) and EDF.