Académie des technologies

Estelle Desroches

  • CEO Cyclife
  • EDF
  • 50 years old
  • Sponsored by Claude Nahon in 2022

Why a career in tech?

The main reason that led me to choose a career in the field of technology was curiosity, the desire to understand, the need to work on real things, the desire to make myself useful and to be involved in projects that make sense. Working in tech makes it possible to take up exciting challenges, oriented towards innovation, in cutting-edge sectors, to provide concrete and systemic responses to essential questions (education, energy, natural resources, etc.).

Your professional experience?

An engineering degree in chemical engineering (ENSIC Nancy) and a PhD in engineering sciences. I did a short time as a teacher at the university and joined EDF group in 1998 within the R&D teams where I first worked on the environmental impacts of various industrial facilities (thermal power stations, waste storage …). After managing a laboratory specializing in hydraulics, I was responsible for the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle within the EDF Nuclear Fuel Division from 2008, with the responsibility for the treatment of spent fuel and the management of radioactive waste. In 2014, I took on the role of Deputy Director, in charge of Performance of an Engineering Center, and in 2016, I became Director of the Graphite Reactor Dismantling Program (UNGG), the first generation of nuclear reactors. After having participated in the creation or acquisition of several entities in this field, I took over the head of the EDF subsidiary Cyclife in 2021. This resulted in a career with a strong technical emphasis, coupled with experience in the management of projects, structures, and companies that are very rich in human relationships. Fem Energia Award 2012 Women In Nuclear France 2021

Your first experience with technology?

A fascinating thesis at the French Petroleum Institute on "Development of gaseous pollutants during the incineration of household waste in a circulating fluidized bed" with a very rich experimental phase, in particular the construction of a pilot unit for combustion tests , supplemented by a digital modeling / "data analysis" part to understand the chemical reactions involved and optimize the operation of the furnaces. A subject that remains relevant today and the start of a long career focused on the sustainable integration of industrial tools and more specifically means of electricity production in our environment.

What do you do today, and why?

I am the CEO of Cyclife, an EDF subsidiary in charge of developing dismantling / waste activities internationally. Cyclife consists of around 700 employees, three radioactive waste treatment plants in France, Sweden and the UK, and three engineering and expertise centers that are developing technological, remote-controlled, robotic and digital solutions for the final phase of the life cycle of nuclear installations, dismantling.

Your strengths in this role?

The combination between a solid technical background and experience in managing teams or various structures. My commitment, my sense of the common interest, a strong professional conscience, a good dose of resilience, a positive energy accompanied by a capacity to give sense, to mobilize a collective, to pull it towards performance, a capacity to acquire quickly and maintain an overview while being able to dig into precise points when necessary. I am credited with a great sense of dialogue, a certain taste for the transmission and great pedagogical qualities. I had also demonstrate a real ability to evolve in a very masculine world and to make people understand the value of diversity, complementarity in the teams.

Past challenges, failures and disappointments?

My career has been built step by step, with new risk taking every step of the way. So yes, there were moments of loneliness or "stage fright" especially during the "first times", the first meeting to negotiate a large contract, the first transformation seminar for a multicultural and international group ... I had sometimes to demonstrate to the skeptics that it was possible. But I have learned a lot from these challenges or these less comfortable situations.

Best moments, successes you're proud of?

Many moments in my career have been sources of pride and satisfaction, some recent examples concern the creation of a new company, Graphitech, or the establishment of a test center to develop and test robotic solutions and digital technologies that will make it possible to tackle the technological challenge of dismantling compact and very large reactors. But the best moments are above all the breakthroughs or the "victories" that I was able to share with my teams. What I particularly appreciate is the human adventure that all these development projects give me the opportunity to share.

People who helped, influenced -or made your life difficult?

I will first mention the support of the one who has lived all his adventures by my side and who has always believed in me: my husband. I had the chance, then, to benefit from help, advice, contacts at key moments in my career. I am thinking in particular about two directors for whom I had the chance to work: my first manager in R&D who taught me the strength of the collective and made me want to take on this role of "head of", the second, an inspiring entrepreneur and strategist, whom I have met on several occasions, who knew how to trust me, give me confidence and push me to engage in playing fields that seemed less natural to me.

Your hopes and future challenges?

My professional challenge in the years to come will be to carry with the Cyclife teams the development of dismantling / waste activities for the EDF group, by proposing innovative and integrated solutions for these challenging projects. Demonstrating that we are capable of providing concrete solutions to these questions is a major subject for the public acceptance of nuclear energy, at a time of crucial discussions around the ecological transition.

What do you do when you don't work?

I have always loved dancing, I have been practicing dance since I was a child, I taught it for a while ... Even today, it is a moment of rejuvenation, of individual and collective creativity. Otherwise, pleasures shared with my little family, my 2 boys aged 20 and 22 of whom I am so proud. Football, wine tasting, and cooking ... I really like creating my own recipes, cooking is a bit like chemistry, the right ingredients, the right proportions ...

Your heroes -from History or fiction?

Quite naturally, I would say Marie Curie, a brilliant scientist who did not hesitate to tackle new subjects but also an exceptional visionary woman who carried out her projects with determination, with a concern for the dissemination of knowledge and by investing personally so that his discoveries and the scientific progress they have enabled benefit the greatest number.

A saying or proverb you like in particular?

"Nothing great has been accomplished in the world without passion" by Hegel or "Life is not to wait for thunderstorms to pass but to learn to dance in the rain" by Seneca

A book to take with you on a desert island?

A timeless and appropriate book: Homer's Odyssey. A formidable epic, a cunning, determined hero who ends up returning, my roots: one of the first books that made a lasting impression on me, the Greek lessons of my adolescence ...

A message to young female professionals?

Dare, trust yourself, go for it. It is by believing in yourself that you can achieve yourself. Stay yourself, true to your values, authentic, everyone has its form of success.


The questionnaire answered by the Women of Tech is a variant of the Proust questionnaire, named not because Marcel Proust got lost in the Paris metro, but in memory of Emilie du Chatelet, a woman of letters, mathematician and physicist, renowned for her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica and the dissemination of Leibniz's physics work. She was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the Bologna Institute. Emilie du Chatelet led a free and fulfilled life during the era of the Enlightenment and published a speech on happiness.

Emilie Du Chatelet

Woman of letters, mathematician and physicist

1706 - 1749