Claire Le Renard (LISIS) will present her PhD thesis on 6/12 at 1:30 pm – Amphi 110 of ESIEE

Claire Le Renard will present her doctoral thesis in sociology entitled “Le prototype défait. Super phénix, des glissements de la promesse technoscientifique aux épreuves de la ” démocratie technique “” (Superphénix, from the shifts of the techno-scientific promise to the tests of “technical democracy”), prepared at the University of Paris-Est, in the LISIS laboratory (UMR CNRS- ESIEE-INRAE- Université Gustave Eiffel) under the direction of Pierre-Benoît Joly.
The defense will be held publicly in a hybrid format (in person and online):

Monday, December 6, 2021 at 1:30 pm

in the amphi 110 of ESIEE, in Champs-sur-Marne – ” Cité Descartes “,
27 avenue André-Marie Ampère –

before a jury composed of :

Madeleine AKRICH, Director of Research, École nationale supérieure des Mines de Paris (rapporteur),
Bernadette BENSAUDE-VINCENT, professor emeritus, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (examiner),
Olivier BORRAZ, CNRS research director, CSO/Sciences Po (examiner),
Arthur JOBERT, expert engineer-researcher, EDF R&D (invited member),
Pierre-Benoît JOLY, INRAE research director, UMR LISIS (thesis director),
Bruno J. STRASSER, ordinary professor, University of Geneva (rapporteur).


This research focuses on the turbulent history of the Superphénix fast neutron nuclear reactor, initiated as an « industrial scale prototype » in the early 1970s. Since the beginnings of nuclear power, fast neutron reactor technology has been linked to a ‘breeder’ socio-technical imaginary, pointing to the possibility of generating fuel in parallel to its consumption. This project has sparked an intense controversy, together with an abundance of literature around it, but little analysis in the social sciences. Following questions have guided the research: How was this project stabilised and destabilised? How has the power to decide on this project shifted in twenty years, from the 1970s to the 1990s? The enquiry tracked the successive qualifications of the project in archival documents, in addition to interviews.

With a requirement of symmetry to explain the initiation and disengagement of Superphénix, the thesis analyses a continuous process, respectively of stabilisation or destabilisation of the project over a decade, followed by a moment of decision closing this process thanks to a coupling with another public policy issue. Between these two processes, which are the subject of the first and third parts, the Superphénix case allows us to examine a moment of discrete and incremental institutional changes in the nuclear regulatory framework in France. During the 1990s, Superphénix was constituted as a demonstrator of ‘technical democracy’, with the ambition of implementing transparency and increased conditionality around nuclear power.

The regime of the economy of techno-scientific promises proved crucial to explain the stabilization of the project. The abandonment of the project was carried out by shifting the promise, making Superphénix an ‘optional passage point’. The work necessary to disengage from an innovation policy involves the industrial de-qualification of the prototype and its re-qualification as an epistemic object.

Keywords : socio-technical imaginaries, techno-scientific promises, prototype, demonstration, nuclear energy, fast neutron reactor, breeder reactor, FBR.