Nuclear power plants in the US could contain counterfeit parts potentially posing significant risks to plant operations and safety, according to a new report by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
Found in some of the most vital components of the reactors and failsafe mechanisms, the investigation was conducted after reports of “counterfeit, fraudulent, and suspect items (CFSI)” in "most, if not all, of US nuclear plants".
CFSIs are parts that either imitate a product without passing the required regulations, are intentionally built to deceive, or simply do not meet the specifications of a legitimate part.
Following an inquiry into four separate plants in four different regions, it concluded some contained CFSIs and are a result of lowered NRC standards and oversight.
As nuclear power picks up momentum as one of the most viable alternatives to fossil fuels for large-scale energy production, safety concerns continue to be at the forefront of the opposition’s argument. With reports of significant CFSI usage in nuclear plants, plus 100 incidents flagged last year involving counterfeit parts, investigations like these are incredibly important at preventing any future nuclear accidents.
The report discovered that some plants were using CFSIs in their main operating machinery, with one NRC principal reporting that they discovered a counterfeit emergency water service pump shaft after it snapped following a very short life. It was then revealed that monitoring instruments in a different plant, monitoring 15 different areas of the nuclear plant, may have been repaired using defective parts that fail prematurely.
Perhaps even more damningly, the report then goes into detail about the lack of oversight into the licenses of operational parts. It states that there is only tracking for parts that cause a serious issue. In these circumstances, the counterfeit part is investigated, but there is limited tracking in parts that may cause a failure in the future.
The NRC estimates, as a result of this tracking, are likely underrepresenting how many CFSIs are in nuclear plants throughout the US – some of which may present distinct safety concerns.
It also stresses that while the report validates at least some of the safety concerns raised to the NRC, it has only sampled a small number of the many CFSI flags raised in recent years. However, in a statement by NRC Public Affairs Officer Scott Burnell to the Verge, the NRC claims that “nothing in the report suggests an immediate safety concern”.