US watchdog investigates counterfeit component issues

16 February 2022

Counterfeit, fraudulent, and suspect items (CFSI) are present in operating US nuclear power plants, a special inquiry by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found.

The term CFSI, as used in the OIG report, encompasses parts which may be genuine, but do not meet intended product specifications, as well as parts that are "intentionally altered to imitate a legitimate product" or are "intentionally misrepresented with intent to deceive".

They are not only an issue for nuclear plants: according to a 2019 report from World Nuclear Association, the infiltration of CFSI within the global market place has become increasingly prominent with examples found in all industries.

The OIG inquiry was carried out in response to allegations received that CFSI are present in "most, if not all" US nuclear power plants; that the NRC has lowered its oversight standards for CFSI; and that the regulator failed to address concerns that had been raised.

After sampling nuclear power plants in each of the NRC's four regions, and also citing a recent OIG audit report, the OIG concluded that CFSIs "are present in operating plants", although the extent of the problem is not clear.

"According to the NRC, the potential number of CFSI cases, and the resulting impact on the nuclear fleet, is relatively small," the report concludes.

"However, the NRC may be underestimating the number of CFSI in plants and their impact because it does not require licensees to report CFSI except in extraordinary circumstances, such as those involving the failure of equipment that performs a significant safety function."

The inquiry "did not substantiate" suggestions that the regulator had lowered its oversight standards for CFSI, but found that "potential gaps" in the NRC's regulatory framework might increase the chance of CFSI going undetected. The inquiry also revealed instances where OIG said the regulator "did not correctly process allegations or other information regarding CFSI".

NRC should improve its oversight of CFSI by clarifying and communicating how the agency collects, assesses, and disseminates information regarding CFSI, and by improving staff awareness of CFSI and its applicability to inspections, OIG said.
Although the OIG's findings indicate the ongoing presence of CFSI, nothing in the report suggests an immediate safety concern, NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said.

"The NRC's office of the Executive Director for Operations is thoroughly reviewing the report and will direct the agency's programme offices to take appropriate action," he told Reuters.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News