Regulators at Risk ? the Experience of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Accident for French Nuclear Safety Regulators

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 46 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Valerie ARNHOLD, Centre de Sociologie des Organisations (Sciences Po Paris/CNRS), France
A large-scale nuclear accident such as the one in Fukushima Dai-ichi in March 2011 potentially challenges the legitimacy and trust in the capacity of nuclear regulators to ensure the safe production of nuclear energy. After an initial phase of shock and confusion immediately after the accident, French nuclear safety regulators currently interpret the nuclear accident as a positive experience and its management as a major success in their careers. This paper analyses strategies and mechanisms through which French nuclear safety regulators overcome this adverse outcome to regain trust in their own past work and their capability to manage the risks related to the use of nuclear energy with the help of the European cooperation among nuclear regulators. We argue that in a context of high uncertainty surrounding the daily work of nuclear regulators as to whether the national safety measures based on a distinctive set of accident scenarios effectively contribute to prevent accidents or render them manageable, regulators rely on organizational and relational, rather than technical, indicators to evaluate the successes and failures of their occupational activities. The cross-country comparisons of nuclear safety regulation in the European safety reviews (“stress-tests”) confirm the status of French regulators as particularly proactive and engaged actors. The introduction of a new safety objective and extension of the normative guidance in a favorable way for French regulators emphasize the impression of a commonly approved substantial improvement of nuclear safety in Europe. The multiple interactions among European colleagues in this intensified cooperation reinforce a common group identity as “regulators”, characterized by the fundamental belief in the controllability of nuclear energy through the existing methods of the regulatory process. Through these rather inward-looking mechanisms, the French regulators contribute to normalize the risks attached to the use of nuclear energy and legitimate its continued predominance in France.