Technological Artifacts and Policy

                  The CEA and EDF of France represented differing political agendas on the development and use of nuclear reactors in post-World War II France. The CEA (Commissariat à l'énergie atomique) and EDF (Électricité de France) were commissions by the Gaullist government to help France put itself on the map as a world leader after the humiliating occupation by Germany. In post-WWII era, nuclear technology dominated the stage of politics as all major countries were toiling endless to catch up to the United States. The political discourse of nuclear technology can be contrasted between the CEA’s military applications and the EDF’s industrial applications.

The concept of nuclear fission was easy enough to understand and the theoretical calculation of the energy production in the form of heat was well understood. The difficult task was designing a reactor that could sustain the fission reaction and produce heat for conversion to electricity. The nuclear program was going to be expensive because France would need to develop all the technology in house. Collaboration with other countries was not possible because nuclear technology was at this time a clandestine program in almost all nations. To convince French parliament that nuclear technology needed massive allocations of resources. Engineers and politicians made promises that the benefits of nuclear technology investment will be soon, like reactors ready for production as opposed to continued basic research into nuclear science.

The CEA set out build these reactors with natural uranium which is much easier to obtain, but the by product is weapons-grade plutonium and the energy production is less efficient. Now while France had promised that it had no interest in weaponizing the plutonium the CEA saw this circumstance as situationally advantageous to produce weapons grad plutonium while still producing working reactors. It was easy to convince parliament of this avenue because there is no harm in stock-piling weapons grade plutonium. As anyone can see, this was a clever ploy to set the stage for France’s nuclear program to move towards defense applications. The CEA was also pressured to produce results which led to the creation and eventual ground breaking of known inefficient reactor designs.

The EDF was initially created to provide centralized infrastructure for electrification of the entire country. The government saw that the previous system of private electric providers was not efficient or in the best interest of the public. At the start of atomic energy development the EDF had very little say in the direction of reactor development. Now while the EDF and CEA worked closely together. The CEA made the decisions and their political agenda was not the creation of power but to build reactors and increase the country’s nuclear capabilities. The key point for the CEA was generating weapon’s grade plutonium. As time progressed the EDF gained more control over the development of nuclear reactors and they designed reactors to be efficient and were not so concerned with the production of weapons grade plutonium.

The contrast of the political agendas that drove the CEA and the EDF contrast the goals of the institution. The CEA did not have the goal of efficient energy production so they were influenced by the possibility of nuclear weapons from the development of primary reactors. The EDF was more concerned with providing efficient electricity to the country and therefore opted for more efficient reactors designs that did not produce the quantity or purity of weapons grade plutonium.