NIST's Center for Neutron Research, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Credit: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

This post was updated Tuesday at 4:20 p.m. to include a statement by Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Friday that a research reactor in Gaithersburg can be safely restarted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), as NIST has satisfied the required conditions. 

According to the commission, the reactor had been shut down since February 2021, after a reactor fuel element was damaged. The commission said in a news release that the incident did not affect the health and safety of the people nearby. According to NIST’s website, on Feb. 3, 2021, a single fuel element in the reactor overheated and became damaged due to not being securely latched into place. 

According to the release, since the reactor facility had violated “the fuel cladding temperature safety limit,” the NRC’s approval was needed before it could be restarted. 

“We’ve reached this decision after extensive review of the event, NIST’s corrective actions, and additional work the facility has done to ensure safe operation,” said Andrea Veil, director of the NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation in a statement in the release. “We’re satisfied this research facility’s important systems and components are ready to go, and we’re satisfied the reactor staff are ready to carry out improved procedures for maintaining safety. We’ll continue our increased oversight of the facility and its ongoing corrective actions.” 

The technical evaluation report by the NRC reported on factors such as the facilities’ systems to ensure no adverse effects took place, NIST’s actions to comply with an August 2022 confirmatory order and results from follow-up NRC inspections. 


According to NRC officials, NIST covered multiple bases relevant to the February 2021 event including fuel handling and management, safety culture and a corrective action program and emergency response resources and procedures. 

NRC officials stated several licensing amendments that were requested by NIST were also reviewed and approved by the commission to help with a safe restarting process. 

“We are extremely pleased to have reached this milestone and to begin our return to normal operations,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio, in an official statement. “We are committed to ensuring the safe operation of this vital national resource so that it can once again support important advances in medicine, material science, technology and more.” 


“We appreciate our partners at NIST,” Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman said in an email to MoCo360. “They have always run the reactor safely and responsibly, and we expect that to continue. We wish them the best in their important work, advancing science and human knowledge.”

Sidney Katz, Montgomery County Council Member for District 3 (which includes Gaithersburg), did not immediately respond to MoCo360’s request for comment.