Several components in the primary circuit of pressurized water reactors are made of cast duplex stainless steels. This material contains small casting defects, mainly shrinkage cavities, due to the manufacturing process. In safety analyses, the structural integrity of the components is studied. In order to assess the real severity of the casting defects under mechanical loadings, an experimental program was carried out. It consisted of testing, under both cyclic and monotonic solicitations, three-point bend specimens containing either a natural defect (in the form of a localized cluster of cavities) or a machined notch having the dimensions of the cluster`s envelope. The tests are analyzed in order to develop a method that takes into account the behavior of castings defects in a more realistic fashion than by an envelope crack. Various approaches are investigated, including the search of equivalent defects or of criteria based on continuum mechanics concepts, and compared with literature data. This study shows the conservatism of current safety analyses in modelling casting defects by envelope semi-elliptical cracks and contributes to the development of alternative approaches. (author) 18 refs.