Accepted paper:

FBR futures in France - 1970s - 1990s: ambiguity in organisations as a means to deal with uncertainties on energy futures


Claire Le Renard (EDF R&D, LinX, LISIS)

Paper short abstract:

In the early 1970s, industrial projects for Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) nuclear technology contained their own scenarios for energy futures. We shall analyse how, in the 1980s, majors actors gave a central role to uncertainties regarding this technology development, thus reopening energy futures.

Paper long abstract:

Industrial projects for Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) nuclear technology emerged in the early 1970s in several industrialised countries, following the construction of research facilities and prototype reactors. In France, the vision of a nuclearized future that prevailed then justified the industrial development of this fuel-regenerating technology, expected to solve the problem of nuclear fuel depletion then deemed certain. FBR developers regarded technology development as linear, assuming that increasing the size of the plants would reduce costs. We suggest to re-read these developments, interpreting them as a means employed by key policy actors to perform a linear scenario of the future of energy policy, relying on a techno-scientific promise, and thereby producing legitimacy, credibility and irreversibility.

However, over time, this scenario became isolated. Publicly accessible archive documents from the 80s and 90s reveal contradictory statements from members of nuclear organisations, which in turn introduced diversity into the possible (yet nuclearized) futures: while the FBR developers foresaw the construction of an FBR fleet in the short to medium term, expressing optimism regarding technology and costs, the head offices of the same institutions highlighted uncertainties, which led to different visions of the future and to an imperative to wait. Yet they expressed their view in ambiguous terms, in order not to impede the development of FBR technology. We shall analyse how these disagreeing actors performed energy futures by discussing FBR technology and its economy. We will further discuss the introduction of ambiguity and long-term future visions as a means to reopen a linear pathway driven by a techno-scientific promise.

panel T078
Contested energy futures and temporalities in retrospective: instruments and practices of forecasting and scenario work