Accepted Paper:

From phenix to ASTRID: the renewal of sodium technology  


Maxime Delannoy (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)
Guy Minguet (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)
Stéphanie Tillement (Ecole des Mines de Nantes)
Frédéric Garcias

Paper short abstract:

Our paper examines the concepts of "nuclearity" and nuclear infrastructure in relation to long-term dynamics, through the analysis of a "Gen IV" reactor design process in France. We study how the interweaving of an uncertain heritage and a projected future affects design and sociotechnical networks.

Paper long abstract:

Each generation of reactors, with its own requirements, critiques of past experiences, controversies and hopes, reshapes the nuclear infrastructure that characterizes the "French nuclear exception" (Hecht, 2004). Design work crystallizes these tensions in that decisions and socio-technical networks built through this work help define the "nuclearity" of tomorrow.

Our study focuses on the design of an industrial demonstrator of a sodium-cooled fast reactor (SFR) called ASTRID. It is supposedly the first French "Gen IV" concept. Its originality lies in the simultaneity between the research and the design process "in the making," as well as in the long-term dynamics of the ASTRID project. The distant future linked to "Gen IV" objectives and related imaginaries, and the closer future linked to renewal of nuclear power plants, structure sociotechnical assemblage. Moreover, ASTRID inherits practices related to the French experience with sodium fast reactors (Phénix, Superphenix) from the attachment between related knowledge, practices and references. The "sodium" community of practice competes with supporters of other "Gen IV" concepts, in both French and international arenas.

Our empirical material comprises institutional and technical documents and interviews with design teams from AREVA, EDF and the French technical support organization (IRSN). Our paper covers three main points that will enable us to qualify the nuclearity of a possible "Gen IV" infrastructure : the structuring effect on the design work of a distant and imagined future (with its uncertainties and constraints); the influence of the technical and socio-cultural "sodium" heritage; and the tensions emerging from diverging design practices.

Panel T093
Infrastructures of nuclearity: Exploring entangled histories, spaces and futures