NRC warns of counterfeits

08 April 2008

Two nuclear operators in the USA discovered that they had purchased counterfeit parts during 2007, it was revealed by safety regulators. None of the parts had been used in safety-related systems.


Square D 

A genuine Square D circuit
breaker - or is it?

The news came in an information notice issued today by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The government agency took the opportunity to remind all US nuclear operators - and possible future operators - of their responsibility to prevent such occurrences.


"Nuclear power plants require high-quality components that meet rigorous standards," said Bill Borchardt, director of the NRC's Office of New Reactors. "As the industry prepares for possible new plants, we want both utilities and construction companies to ensure their suppliers are up to the job."


The information notice details that in November 2007 the NRC became aware that the second reactor unit of the Hatch nuclear power plant had been using a counterfeit valve on the stator cooling water skid - a system not related to safety. This component had been in use for eight months when its counterfeit status was discovered, from which time its performance has been closely monitored. Plans exist to replace the valve during the next refuelling outage in spring 2009.


Three times during 2006 and 2007 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced recalls of counterfeit 'Square D' circuit breakers which can fail to trip when overloaded. NRC said this poses a fire hazard to consumers. The parts were manufactured in China and unknowingly distributed in the USA between 2003 and 2006. Three US nuclear power plants, Catawba, McGuire and Oconee, purchased Square D circuit breakers during the suspected time frame, NRC said, and Catawba was unable to confirm the authenticity of four of its Square D units. None of these had been installed in safety-related systems and they were all removed from stock.


NRC said the above examples "demonstrate the need for licensees to remain vigilant and maintain effective quality assurance programs" and that "it remains the licensee's responsibility to ensure that all suppliers use standards and processes that conform to US standards."


Nuclear power plant operators should: involve engineering staff in procuring and accepting products; inspect parts first at the vendor's plant and again after receipt; test the parts before use; and extensively review and test products before considering their use in safety-related applications.