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Le prototype défait. Superphénix, des glissements de la promesse technoscientifique aux épreuves de la "démocratie technique"

Abstract : 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 research, based on archival documents and interviews, focuses on a threefold object: the Superphénix prototype, the project to industrialize fast breeder reactor technology, and the institutional framework of nuclear decision-making. The thesis is as much about the decision to make the prototype as about the decision to unmake it. The regime of the economy of techno-scientific promises proved crucial to explain how the promoters of the project assembled the resources for its development, creating scientific and technological development paths. The initiation and disengagement of Superphénix are symmetrically analysed as lengthy and continuous processes, respectively of stabilisation or destabilisation of the project over a decade, followed by moments of governmental decision concluding the process through a coupling with another public policy issue, in 1976 and in 1997. 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 analysis focuses on the qualifications of the 'industrial scale prototype', a definition that leaves space for a wide range of interpretations. Careful attention to what is inscribed in the definition of the prototype opens up a reflection on innovation through prototypes and demonstrators. 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.
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Contributor : Claire LE RENARD Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Tuesday, February 22, 2022 - 12:08:06 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, February 24, 2022 - 10:48:23 AM

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Claire Le Renard. Le prototype défait. Superphénix, des glissements de la promesse technoscientifique aux épreuves de la "démocratie technique". Sociologie. Université Paris-Est, 2021. Français. ⟨tel-03584210⟩



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