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The Impossible Confinement of Nuclear Work

Professional and Family Experiences of Subcontracted Workers Exposed to Radioactivity
Marie Ghis Malfilatre
Traduction de Juliette Rogers
p. 103-125


Based on an ethnographic study attentive to biographical careers, this article concerns how employees of subcontracting companies in the electro-nuclear industry and their female life partners relate to an occupation characterized by significant geographical mobility and an intrinsic exposure to radioactivity. These young men and couples invest in this line of work as an opportunity that requires a particularly delicate management of life outside of work for both members of the couple. Tolerated and managed for a time, it sometimes proves inadequate for averting occupational strain on the worker, and may even be a source of strain on the family. While workers and their partners are busy holding the relationship together despite the travel demands of the job, which prove to be increasingly burdensome, initially invisible workplace hazards end up causing problems and worry at home. Friends and family are once again exposed to the strains of nuclear work, and their support proves to be determinant as much in the dynamics of mobilizations for workplace health protection as in withstanding the ordeal of occupational illness.

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Notes de la rédaction

Article published in French in Travail et Emploi, no 147, juillet-septembre 2016.

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Consulter cet article


Tolerating Mobility and Arrangements for Staying Together
Accepting “Long Trips” to Earn Money
Arrangements for Family Plans That Are under Construction
“Making a Family” While Away for Work
From the Constraints of Mobility to Constrained Mobility
The Impossible Double Life
The Cost of Prolonged Absences for Families
Family Experiences of Workplace Health Hazards
Distance as a Temporary Buffer
From Risk Perception to Mobilization
Family Reconfiguration When Confronting Illness

Aperçu du texte

Although the topic of workplace health has had some exposure in academic, media, and political arenas in recent years, including the asbestos scandal (Henry, 2007), musculoskeletal problems (Hatzfeld, 2009), and psycho-social risks (Clot, 2010), there has been little attention to the health issues of nuclear industry employees.

Since the opening of its first nuclear facilities, Électricité de France (EDF, the French electrical utility company) chose to entrust some (or all, since the late 1980s) of their maintenance procedures –the work presenting the greatest work-related hazards– to subcontractors. This in turn led to the creation of “subcontracted” working, health, and legal conditions (Thébaud-Mony, 1991, 2000; Daubas-Letourneux, Thébaud-Mony, 2001; Bouffartigue et al., 2010), which have already given rise to a string of alerts, reports, and recommendations. Despite several ups and downs, this multifaceted problem has not stabilized or even been recognized as such (Cefaï, Terzi, ...

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Référence papier

Marie Ghis Malfilatre, « The Impossible Confinement of Nuclear Work », Travail et Emploi, Hors-série | 2017, 103-125.

Référence électronique

Marie Ghis Malfilatre, « The Impossible Confinement of Nuclear Work », Travail et Emploi [En ligne], Hors-série | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 janvier 2018, consulté le 21 novembre 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/travailemploi.7640

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Marie Ghis Malfilatre

École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Centre d’étude des mouvements sociaux (CEMS), Institut Marcel Mauss;

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