“Gambling with safety: NRC downgrades quality assurance of reactor parts”, Nuclear Monitor Article, December 24, 2004. In a move controversial even with its own staff, NRC released its Final Rule affecting how reactor operators purchase safety-related parts to ensure that safety-related systems, structures and components will perform vital functions during operation or an accident.
The General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office or GAO) identified in an October 16, 1990 report to Congress “Nuclear Safety and Health: Counterfeit Parts and Substandard Products Are a Governmentwide Concern” that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission “is deferring its regulatory responsibility” by failing to take enforcement action against widespread safety violations where nuclear power utilities have installed nonconforming or “fraudulent” products (such as fasteners, pipe fittings, electrical equipment, valves, even bolts) in 64% of the nation’s domestic nuclear power stations. According to GAO, NRC inspections of 13 nuclear utilities’ quality assurance programs found problems with 12 and cited that the federal nuclear safety oversight agency enforcement actions “seem to conflict with the need for continuous and aggressive oversight of this problem.”
Contrary to GAO recommendations made in 1990 for NRC to take “enforcement action” against nuclear utilities in violation of maintaining Quality Assurance and Quality Control standards for “nuclear grade” safety-related reactor components, , the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published in Federal Register Notice November 22, 2004 a Final Rule creating a classification of “safety-related” parts which can now use lower grade “commercial grade” industrial parts. While the rule change promises to save the nuclear industry hundreds of millions of dollars in the procurement of nuclear safety-related equipment NRC staff have filed Differing Professional Opinions (DPO) on Commission amendments contained in the Final Rule identifying that the relaxation “raises serious safety concerns” which will allow nuclear power station operators to install inferior grade equipment in safety-related functions without adequate confidence that the parts will perform their required safety function.” To see the NRC Final Rule on special treatment requirements for structures, systems and components in nuclear power stations see the Federal Register Notice.