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Enhancing Nuclear Safety


Research programmes

AGORAS project

Last update on June 2018

The French National Research Agency (ANR)'s AGORAS (Improvement of Governance of Organizations and Networks of Actors for Nuclear Safety) project, which launched in 2014 and which will run until 2019, analyzes the human and organizational dimensions involved in the governance of nuclear risks in France, in the light of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. The project focuses on how to design reactors in a way that takes severe accidents into consideration, and how to prepare for managing nuclear crises. More specifically, AGORAS considers the interactions between the organizations that are in charge of safety (designers, operators, IRSN and ASN), an area that is still rarely discussed.


AGORAS is one of the 14 projects selected by the ANR as part of the "Future Investments Program - Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Research (PIA RSNR)" call for projects launched following the Fukushima Daiichi accident. It brings together academic, industrial and institutional partners, including IRSN, which is leading two projects.




Background and objectives


The Fukushima disaster in March 2011 called into question some of the principles on which nuclear safety was built, in Japan and France alike. This affected not only the practices of the actors concerned (designers, operators, safety authorities and expert organizations) and the knowledge they bring to the table, but also the way in which they structure their interventions. In May 2011, following this accident, France's ASN nuclear safety authority requested nuclear operators to carry out "additional safety assessments" (ECS) of their installations. These assessments are revealing the need to produce solid scientific knowledge on how nuclear safety is built through the interactions between the aforementioned players.


This is precisely where the AGORAS project comes in. It aims to understand how institutional equilibriums are built and developed between the operators, their subcontractors and partners, and safety authorities and expert public bodies, in a post-Fukushima landscape in which civil society tends to play a growing role. Emphasis is placed on the debates and controversies arising between these different bodies, which are partly responsible for establishing the level of nuclear safety.


The AGORAS project is intended to provide knowledge to improve accident prevention and crisis management preparation in emergency and post-accident situations.




Project structure


AGORAS is structured into two complementary components, each of which is divided into three actions:


  • An accident prevention component, analyzing the impact of the Fukushima accident on the approach adopted towards the safety of installations and the relationships between players in the domain of nuclear risk management.
  • A crisis management component, analyzing how the accident has played a part in changing perceptions of nuclear accidents and how to prepare for the management of accident and post-accident situations.



 Component 1: accident prevention


The aim of this component is to analyze the dynamics of establishing and implementing the principles relating to the safety of installations in France. The three research actions in this component aim to analyze the process of producing knowledge about risks, and how to leverage this knowledge in installation design processes. These analyses are based on a central concept: the processes of knowledge production and mobilization are the products of interactions between organizations (designers, operators, IRSN and ASN) with different philosophies and purposes.


  • Action 1, led by IRSN, focuses on incorporating the requirements associated with natural hazards and severe accidents into installation design decision-making processes. Specifically, this involves examining these decisions in light of the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.


  • Action 2, also led by IRSN, focuses on how an accident – and the Fukushima accident in particular – transforms the processes through which nuclear safety experts generate and leverage knowledge. This includes identifying the conditions that facilitate critical reviews of and changes to these processes, as well as the conditions that present obstacles.


  • Action 3, led by the Institut Mines Télécom Atlantique (IMT-Atlantique), looks at the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi accident on the design of future-generation reactors, in particular those known as "fourth-generation". This involves analyzing the intra- and inter-organizational dynamics that underpin these processes.




Component 2: Crisis prevention and management


This component, which complements the first one, focuses on the influence of nuclear accidents – and Fukushima Daiichi in particular – on the evolution of crisis management doctrines, skills and practices. Each of the three actions of this research component raises the question of the links between a "plan-ahead" philosophy and a "resilience" philosophy. The former is essentially based on action plans and on precisely defining the responsibilities, roles and competences of the various players. The latter is based on an ability to adapt and improvise on the ground when faced with the unexpected.


  • Action 4, led by the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations (CSO) of Paris's Sciences Po University, deals with how crisis management organizations and doctrines have evolved as a result of accidents such as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima Daiichi (2011). This action focuses on the development of crisis management preparation plans and exercises conducted regularly to train involved players and test their level of preparedness.


  • Action 5, also piloted by the CSO, analyzes changes in nuclear safety governance following a major accident – and Fukushima Daiichi in particular – in France and internationally. The aim is to understand how players are able to determine the causes of the accident and then implement mechanisms to learn from them. In particular, it focuses on ASN's practices, and specifically its relationships with operators and with the IRSN.


  • Action 6, led by IMT-Atlantic, analyzes how "post-accident" management is planned. It considers the question of how to define post-accident situations, boundaries and goals, and focuses on the tools developed to manage those situations. In particular, it involves understanding how expert assessments interact with the ability of institutions and population groups and their representatives to take action in the context of managing medium-term crisis situations.




Results and perspectives


From a scientific point of view, this project should enable the development of socio-organizational models for analyzing nuclear safety governance at the inter-organizational relationships level. In practical terms, it aims to help nuclear safety players to develop tools, methods and processes to improve inter-organizational practices in designing nuclear technologies and managing crises.


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