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I-Team: Report Shows Counterfeit, Untested Parts In Nuclear Power Plants

BOSTON (CBS) - A recent report shows that there are fake parts in nuclear power plants. Those parts are not tested, and experts say they could fail.

They are called CSFI or counterfeit fraudulent suspect items. Nuclear safety expert Stephen Comley, Sr. says they include, "pipe flanges, valves, circuit breakers, nuts and bolts stamped as U.S. made when they weren't and more importantly, they were stamped as being tested parts, they never tested them."

Comley tells the I-Team he is the unnamed source who provided the information in a recent Inspector General's investigation that found fake parts are in operating nuclear power plants.

"If you have a counterfeit part that's installed at a nuclear power plant, what it means is that the safety margins have been reduced," said nuclear safety expert David Lochbaum. "The more bad parts you have, or the more failures you have, you're creating a perfect storm that can some day lead to a disaster."

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission puts out bulletins to the industry about fraudulent parts, but, the Inspector General's report found that wasn't enough and the agency should be doing more to improve oversight.

In a statement to the I-Team, the NRC said:

"While the inquiry's findings include the ongoing presence of CFSI at U.S. reactors, nothing in the report suggests an immediate safety concern. The NRC's office of the executive director for operations is thoroughly reviewing the report and will direct the agency's program offices to take appropriate action. The agency intends to meet the report's response date."

Still, the Inspector General calls the concerns "serious." The report cites, in fiscal year 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy identified more than 100 incidents involving fake parts, including five linked to safety components at nuclear facilities.

Comley says the plants should find them and replace them. The only problem, he tells the I-Team, "they don't know where they are."

While this investigation did not name the plants with the fake parts, decades ago the General Accountability Office did. At that time the GAO released a list of facilities with fake parts that included the Seabrook Station in New Hampshire.

NextEra, the owner of the plant, said in a statement:

"The OIG report focuses on NRC processes and not those employed at Seabrook Station. Seabrook operates in accordance with all NRC, federal and state regulations. Seabrook meets numerous regulatory requirements and follows strict internal processes to ensure there are no counterfeit parts used at the power plant."

Lochbaum says with both the plant and the fake parts aging, the industry's problem could get worse. "They need a spotlight on this problem rather than just a strobe light that blinks periodically," Lochbaum said. "Otherwise more and more counterfeit parts are going to find their way into nuclear power plants and if you invite disaster, sometimes disaster accepts."

Comley would not tell the I-Team where he got the information that he gave to the Inspector General. "Those parts are only getting older right? That's scary stuff," Comley said.

While the Inspector General's audit isn't binding on the NRC, the agency says it will meet the deadline to respond to the recommendations.

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