Commercial-grade products help build nuclear supply chain

08 December 2020

Commercial-grade products will become increasingly important in the nuclear supply chain over the coming years, according to speakers at an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) webinar last week. The industry must be vigilant about counterfeit, fraudulent and suspect items (CFSI) as supply chains grow longer, they said.

(Image: D Calma/IAEA)

Panellists at Nuclear Supply Chain Management - The Global View, held on 3 December, included Greg Kaser, senior project manager at World Nuclear Association, Ron Oberth, president and CEO of the Organisation of Canadian Nuclear Industries (OCNI), and Pekka Pyy, senior expert at the IAEA.

Asked to identify the single most important area the supply chain should focus on in future, Pyy selected people. "This industry is not going to work without competent, well-motivated people," he said, adding that it is important to have good mixture of generations to ensure the industry is attractive, both to people joining the industry and to ensure those already within it do not want to leave.

Oberth said the supply chain must continue to make quality its primary focus, even as changes in technology such as additive manufacturing, and increasing digitisation play an increasing part. "As we embrace new supply chain technology we have to make sure quality is always the number one focus of our industry," he said.

Kaser identified localisation of production, and how it fits in with the IAEA milestones framework, as an important area that has not yet been properly explored. The increasing use of commercial-grade products in nuclear safety systems is an ongoing topic of discussion within the industry and amongst regulators, Kaser said.

"Clearly, if you buy a commercial product - one that is being sold to a number of industries - it will be cheaper than buying something that is tailor-made for a nuclear application, provided that it does the job adequately," he said.

The USA has for many years used a procedure of commercial grade dedication for identifying the critical elements and functions of a piece of equipment, so a product that performs a very similar function can be compared to the original nuclear-grade product specified in a design and upon which that design is licensed. Such an acceptance procedure may also be acceptable in other jurisdictions, but there is a need for regulators to accept a similar agreed way of doing things, he said.

The more that nuclear supply chain players go through the commercial-grade acceptance process, the more confident they will become that commercial products can be suitably upgraded - or are already suitable - for nuclear use, Oberth said. By partnering with new suppliers in emerging nuclear countries - or, in the case of Canada, provinces - established manufacturers can also support localisation of the nuclear supply chain, he added.

Asked whether the issue of CSFIs within the nuclear supply chain are increasing as more use is made of commercial-grade accreditation, Pyy said the nuclear industry is like any other business sector in that counterfeiters will seize any opportunity they can. Previous studies have suggested however that infiltration of CFSI in the nuclear supply chain has up to now been relatively small.

An investigation carried out by World Nuclear Association in 2019 found no particular increase in the incidence of suspect items within the nuclear supply chain, Kaser agreed. "But having said that, the problem is specific to certain types of product," he said. Electronic products, for example, could themselves contain CFSI parts - such as pre-used components.

The nuclear industry is "getting better" at identifying CFSI products and sharing that information with other suppliers, so while counterfeiters are becoming more sophisticated, nuclear suppliers and utilities are also becoming more able to counter them, said Oberth. "We are sharing the best practices in mitigating and identifying CFSI," he said. "We haven't seen any recent incidents, but we know the problem will continue to be there, and we will continue to be vigilant.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News