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Research units

Laboratory for Radionuclide Ecotoxicology (LECO)


The Laboratory for Radionuclide Ecotoxicology (LECO) is located at the Cadarache Nuclear Research Centre in south-east France. The laboratory's twenty employees are involved in assessing the impact of radionuclides on ecosystems.





Context and research themes


LECO is assigned to the Director for the environment in the Health and Environment Pole (PSE).


Assessing the impact of radionuclides on ecosystems is the main area of research at LECO.


The laboratory's research and assessment activities are concerned with environmental protection. In particular, they include studying the effects of pollutants (natural or man-made radionuclides, trace metals or organic substances) liable to be released on various levels of biological organisation in the continental, aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and associated with the use of nuclear energy. As well as working on IRSN's own research programmes (Envirhom), LECO carries out research for or in partnership with various national (ANR, NEEDS) or international organisations (European Community).


The purpose of these research  works is to develop:

  • tools and parameters for characterising ecosystem functioning, disturbances in these functions, and risks related to the actual or predicted release of radionuclides, in the continental environment under chronic or post-accident conditions;
  • concepts and models to explain or predict the functioning of organisms and ecosystems under normal or disturbed conditions.


It is also aimed at generating or analysing currently unavailable data on bioaccumulation and dose-effect relationships in ecosystems. The ultimate goal is to propose and implement a general approach that will extend ecological risk assessment to include radioactive substances.


Research axes


LECO's research works are focused on the following axis :

  • identify, quantify and understand the modes of toxic action of various types of ionising radiation and their target molecules, cells and tissues in non-human living organisms, under different exposure conditions (external/internal, acute/chronic, single-stressor/multiple stressor), and  conduct in vivo and in vitro controlled-environment experiments for this purpose;
  • develop biomonitoring concepts and tools for a priori or a posteriori assessment of the biological and ecological impact of in situ exposure to ionising radiation under various conditions;
  • acquire data and develop standard concepts to: a) create phenomenological models of effects on the physiology, dynamics and adaptation of non-human species and on ecosystem structure and functioning; b) improve understanding of in situ observations;
  • take part in the metrology network coordinated by IRSN's Environmental Sample Processing and Metrology Department (STEME) and in the inter-comparison exercises it organises;
  • provide technical skills for IRSN's emergency response organisation;
  • take part in national and international assessment work and discussions (within the limits set by PRP-ENV, and including as part of service contracts) to evaluate the ecological risk induced by the presence of pollutants from nuclear applications, in particular by contributing to controlled-environment experiments and field work in this area.


Three closely related fields of research:

  • Predictive ecotoxicology:
    - studying modes of action of radionuclides: genotoxicity, neurotoxicity, oxidative stress, immunotoxicity to characterise early warning signals;
    - predicting the effects of these disturbances in tissues and individuals (reproduction, behaviour, resistance to illness).
  • Biomonitoring tools: application to uranium mining sites, nuclear facilities, and Chernobyl and Fukushima-Daiichi regulated areas. 
  • Concepts and models: 
    - using dynamic population models for extrapolating effect data on an individual scale (life history traits) up to the scale of an entire population;
    - applying the dynamic energy budget (DEB) theory to the study of radionuclide ecotoxicity;
    - applying quantitative genetic models to study how organisms adapt to stressors (multigenerational effects).  


Most of the experimental projects in these fields of research fall within the scope and strategy of the Envirhom programme, which is aimed at improving the assessment of chronic, environmental and health risks associated with trace radionuclides. The results obtained are used operationally in designing methods for characterizing the environmental risk and the related tools. This work is also conducted on a European level as part of the Strategy for Allied Radioecology (STAR) network of excellence and the Radioecology Alliance. A number of projects, both national (DEVIL post-environment round table project; AVIESAN HEMI-BREAKS T; EC2CO MOBIVEC) and international (ANR Freebird) are also underway.


In addition, the above projects share common R&D topics, including: 

  • Radionuclide metrology
  • Metrology for various stable elements
  • Histology and microlocalisation of elements studied in various biological models
  • Methods for revealing biological effects on different scales of biological organisation.



Research team

Researchers and engineers   
Frédéric Alonzo (researcher)

Olivier Armant (researcher)

Karine Beaugelin (researcher)
Jean-Marc Bonzom (researcher)
Magali Floriani (research engineer)

Sandrine Frelon (research engineer)
Béatrice Gagnaire (researcher)

Rodolphe Gilbin (researcher and Head of laboratory)

Olivier Simon (research engineer)

Virginie Camilleri
Isabelle Cavalie

Nicolas Dubourg

PhD students

Rémi Guedon (2016-2019)

Sophia Murat El Houdigui (2016-2019)

Audrey Souloumiac (2017-2020)

Noémie Guirandy (2018-2021)

Elisbeth Dufourcq-Sekatcheff (2018-2021)

Elsa Cantabella (2018-2021)

Loic Quevarec (2018-2021)


Facilities and techniques


LECO uses the ECORITME platform.



Partnerships and research networks



LECO is part of the following main scientific networks:

  • CEA
  • EDF
  • INRS-ETE (Quebec)
  • AECL (Ontario)
  • CCSN (Ontario)
  • NRPA (Norway)
  • University of Montpellier II
  • University of Bordeaux I
  • University of Aix-Marseille
  • University of Toulouse
  • University of Brest
  • University of Reims
  • University of Antwerp (Belgium)
  • University of Stockholm (Sweden)
  • University of Hong Kong (PRC)
  • University of Rikkiyo (Japan)
  • University of Tsukuba (Japan).


LECO is a host laboratory for the following universities:

  • University of Bordeaux I
  • University of Aix-Marseille
  • University of Montpellier II

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Etude de la radioactivité sur la croissance des plantes (arabidopsis)  Crédits : Noak/Le bar Floréal/IRSN




Rodolphe Gilbin, head of laboratory



Laboratory for Radionuclide Ecotoxicology (LECO)

Centre d'Études Nucléaires de Cadarache

Bâtiment 186, BP 3

13115 Saint-Paul-Lez-Durance Cedex



By Phone: +33 (0)4 42 19 94 01
Fax : +33 (0)4 42 19 91 51


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