The public expert on nuclear and radiological risks

Expert appraisal, research, protection, forward planning, sharing: such is the remit of IRSN in its service to the public authorities and the public at large. IRSN can boast the unrivalled capacity to combine the expertise of researchers and experts, in order to anticipate questions arising in relation to changes in nuclear and radiological risks and how to manage these risks. IRSN teams are keen to publicise their work and share their knowledge with society. In pursuing this approach, they help to improve access to information and to create the conditions for dialogue with stakeholders.
IRSN contributes to public nuclear safety and security policies, as well as health, environmental and crisis management policies. As a Public Industrial and Commercial Establishment (“EPIC” – Établissement public à caractère industriel et commercial) overseen jointly by the French Ministry of the Environment, the French Ministry of Defense, and the French Ministries of Energy, Research and Health, all that IRSN does is fully in line with the Government’s modernisation policies, as testified by its risk management approach and by its implementation of a global corporate social responsibility policy.

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IRSN fulfils its missions: this was the conclusion of the Court of Auditors, in June 2021, following its auditing of the Institute. The fact that this conclusion comes from the legal body responsible for assessing public policies and overseeing the proper use of public money, and which is renowned for its demands and rigour, this is for us a positive and essential endorsement.

In 2021, just as in 2020, accomplishing these missions in order to meet the challenges facing the Institute was made more complex by the pandemic. IRSN rose to the challenges of its many commitments and obligations by adapting its working methods to protect its employees and to pursue its relations with its many interlocutors: the public authorities, government bodies, TSO peer bodies, industrialists, research organisations and, more generally, society at large. Our thanks go out to all concerned.


Nuclear power plant systems have a life cycle that stretches out over the long term. Certain facilities are ageing, and across industry needs are being expressed for fresh capacity, against a background of major climatic, technological and societal changes. The ways in which ionising radiation is used in the fields of healthcare, diagnostics and therapy are also evolving rapidly. More and more questions are being raised about the impact of the environment on human health, including the impact linked to radioactivity.

For a technical organisation responsible for assessing radiological and nuclear risks in all their forms, having at hand when needed the necessary know-how and skills for expressing a reliable and independent scientific judgement, as expected by all those with a stake in managing these risks, presupposes anticipation of all these changes. This is the ambition guiding the research conducted in 2021 with a view to examining major safety dossiers such as the 4th periodic review of the 1,300 MWe reactors or the establishment of new test platforms, such as EVA, ASPIC and MIDI. These platforms will help us to anticipate the ageing of nuclear facilities and the mechanisms leading to serious accidents, through reinforcing via experimentation the models created using simulation tools. This same ambition drives our interest in emerging safety issues, such as those associated with small modular reactors (SMR).

It is also the driving force behind our research into the development of a new strategy for the handling of patients suffering from acute radiation syndrome, the clinical treatment of over-irradiation through the use of stem cells, the seal behaviour of deep geological repositories over very long periods, and the development of methods and tools for the rapid detection of trace radioactive nuclides in the environment for better monitoring.

Lastly, it is also what has motivated the in house selection of five exploratory study projects, launched in 2021, for the benefit of future finalised research programmes on topics as varied as radionuclide deposits in rural areas, the development of irradiated fuel simulation, the application of machine learning, complications following treatment with iodine 131, and understanding DNA damage.

Anticipation is also about preparation: preparing in particular for a nuclear or radiological disaster by taking part, in 2021, in national exercises such as the SECNUC governmental exercise or international exercises with the IAEA, by taking action in real-life situations such as when radioactivity attributed to a steelworks is detected. Another initiative is improving know-how through research with a seminar on what the human and social sciences can bring to the capacity of organisations to adapt to unforeseen events.


Risk assessment, through research or expert appraisal, requires the fostering of a questioning attitude predicated on the safety culture. This questioning attitude is nurtured in particular through sharing, in other words the capacity to dialogue with all stakeholders involved in risk management.

So, for the benefit of the greater public good, this means sharing the issues and priorities with the authorities, and in 2020 and 2021 IRSN accordingly renewed most of its conventions with the authorities or administrations it supports.

IRSN is in constant interaction with its international peer organisations. Hence, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, IRSN organised an in-person event, the EUROSAFE 2021 Forum, under the aegis of the Etson network, on the subject of “Nuclear and Radiation Safety in a disruptive world”, followed by a seminar on the human and social sciences research conducted in light of the accident.

In 2021, the Institute created an occupational training and mentoring structure called IRSN Academy, which will allow us to build on our capital of know-how and skills.

Lastly, the desire to enhance the expert appraisal work of IRSN through the incorporation of the insights and questions emerging from the dialogue with the stakeholders permeated the technical dialogues conducted in the framework of the 4th review of the 900 MWe reactors. This approach lays the groundwork, in line with our objectives and performance contract, for the implementation in early 2022 of a standing committee for dialogue with society, designated ODISCE.


The independence of IRSN is taken to betoken the impartiality of its scientific and technical judgement, and of its investigations into topics of import that fall within its remit. From this point of view, the research already referred to as a forward-planning tool means that IRSN always has at its disposal the latest knowledge and information.

IRSN also debates the concepts, methods and positions it develops. Hence, for the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima accident, in 2021, IRSN summarised its reflections on the response capacity of people and organisations to unforeseen situations and to highly improbable events, and on managing a post-accident situation, in a report entitled “Anticipation and resilience. Considerations a decade after the Fukushima Daiichi accident”, which was shared internationally.

IRSN deals with situations likely to present challenges in terms of nuclear safety or radiation protection. In 2021, following unusual readings of the tritium concentration in the river Loire made by an association, IRSN continued with its large-scale campaign of sampling and behaviour modelling for this radioactive element in the Loire. The results have been presented regularly to the pluralist monitoring committee set up for this.

Lastly, in 2021, the Institute’s Ethics Commission (CED), working on behalf of its Board of Directors, provided details in its report about the notices published between early 2020 and mid-2021 on the links of interest, the ethics of the research business and the conditions for providing services to industry.


With the objective of achieving the highest possible quality in its efforts to serve the public authorities and society, IRSN strives to maintain the skills of its teams at the highest level in the fields of expert appraisal and research.

In 2021, IRSN concluded or renewed structural partnerships in nuclear safety and radiation protection with benchmark institutes such as, in France, the CNRS or the Gustave Roussy cancer research centre, and abroad with the likes of the Universities of Singapore and Fukushima. IRSN has also been designated a “Capacity building centre” by the IAEA and will have its status as a WHO “collaborating centre” renewed in 2022. These partnerships stand in recognition of the skills of IRSN and provide motivation for continuing to reinforce these skills.

For the Institute, the quality demonstrated in the exercise of its radiation protection monitoring or in the conduct of its research or appraisal programmes draws in no small measure on the quality of its data and the management of these data. In 2021, IRSN published its digital strategy and continued to deploy its strategy for optimising data use. This means that several projects in fields as diverse as the dosimetry of workers, crisis management and the exploitation of lessons learned now draw on artificial intelligence.

Lastly, IRSN is deploying its CSR policy around the roadmap for the years 2021- 2023 with procedures concerning the circular economy, digital sobriety, energy retrofitting as part of the recovery plan, etc.


IRSN, the operational principles of which were determined by Governmental decree in 2002, will celebrate in 2022 its 20th anniversary of questioning, researching, innovating, assessing, recommending and sharing. These have been two decades guided by the constant objective, in an ever-changing society, of contributing to the protection of our fellow citizens and the environment in face of the risks linked to ionising radiation, by acting to underpin nuclear safety and security and radiation protection.

2022 will provide us with the opportunity to reflect on the path taken since the merger of IPSN and OPRI to create a major public scientific and technical body for the assessment of nuclear and radiological risks in all their forms, involving expert appraisal and research and covering the civil and defense fields, safety and radiation protection, and distinguishing between the appraisal and decision-making functions.

Yet above all, true to our strategy for 2030 and making the most of our 20 years of experience, and in line with the modernisation initiatives of the Government while maintaining a permanent dialogue with all our institutional interlocutors and representatives of society, we shall continue to pursue, with the highest standards of excellence and responsibility, our managerial, digital, work-mode and societal transformation in order to best leverage the changes to the environmental, energy, health and safety context for the benefit of protection against ionising radiation, and ensuring nuclear safety and security.

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Marie-France Bellin,

Chair of the Board of Directors

Jean-Christophe Niel,

Director General

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In 2021, and against the background of the health crisis, IRSN was able to reinforce the overall consistency of its actions in order to uphold its commitments in the fields of nuclear defense safety, nuclear security and non-proliferation.

image profil louis-michel guillaume

Louis-Michel Guillaume,

Deputy Director General
for defense missions and in charge
of the Defense Security
and non-proliferation division

2021 was marked by the extension of the health crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing on the experience acquired throughout the previous year in adapting its organisation and work methods to this particular context, IRSN was able to reinforce the overall consistency of its actions in order to uphold its commitments with regard to the authorities and government bodies.

In this way, in the field of nuclear defense safety, the Institute continue to pursue in 2021 its expert appraisal missions in support of the Directorate of nuclear security (Délégué à la sûreté nucléaire – DSN) for facilities and activities of interest to defense. It examined in particular, with regard to safety, the lessons learnt from naval propulsion boilers, those linked to the operational commissioning of the Suffren, the first nuclear attack submarine of the Barracuda programme, and changes to the facilities dedicated to French nuclear deterrence on the sites of the CEA.

As part of its safety assessment missions for nuclear facilities, the Institute has contributed to consolidating the technical and regulatory corpus framing the various components of its activities. It has proceeded with the modernisation of its platforms, linked both to the analysis of the effects of explosions and weapons on a site or transportation involving nuclear materials and the study of potential vulnerabilities of nuclear facilities in the face of cyber-attacks.

In matters of nuclear or chemical non-proliferation, it is worth underlining the contribution of IRSN to the organisation of the 2021 symposium of ESARDA[1], held jointly with that of the American INMM[2]. In the framework of the French chairing of ESARDA, this symposium enabled reinforcement in particular of the Association’s links with the IAEA by way of a cooperation agreement relating in particular to knowledge capitalisation. In this area, also worthy of note is the success of the first international training programme of the IRSN Academy, dedicated to the implementation of safeguards.

Whether concerning nuclear defense safety, nuclear security or non-proliferation, the IRSN teams strove in 2021 to make further progress in satisfying the expectations of the authorities and government bodies. In 2022, the latter can count once again on the commitment of all concerned to continue optimising the organisation and methods of the Institute, for facing the coming challenges.


[1] European Safeguards Research and Development Association
[2] Institute of Nuclear Materials Management

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