The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced that it will soon begin a careful restart process and low-power testing of its research reactor, which was shut down in February 2021.
Per NIST: “The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has received authorization from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to restart its research reactor. The NIST Center for Neutron Research reactor has been shut down since Feb. 3, 2021, when a single fuel element overheated and was damaged because it was not securely latched into place.
The NIST reactor is used for a broad range of research and operates at far lower power, temperature and pressure conditions than utility reactors that generate electricity. The NRC’s extensive review of this incident showed that the public was safe at all times during the event.
“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. “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.”
Over the past two years, NIST has reviewed and updated its training, operations, procedures, communications and attitudes toward safety. The NRC confirmed there were no impacts on the reactor’s structures, systems and components that would preclude restart. The commission also evaluated NIST’s revised procedures and practices to ensure that they “provide reasonable assurance that the reactor will be operated consistent with its license and the NRC’s regulations.”
“We are extremely pleased to have reached this milestone and to begin our return to normal operations. 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.” —NIST Director Laurie E. Locascio
With its authorization to restart the research reactor, the NRC released a technical evaluation report that outlines how it reached its decision and documents its review of the corrective actions NIST has taken per an August 2022 Confirmatory Order.
“I am proud of the tremendous progress our NCNR and other NIST staff members have made to ensure we could bring the NCNR back into service,” said Locascio. “We look forward to continuing to work with the NRC to ensure sustained safe operations.”
The NIST Reactor Safety Evaluation Committee will complete a review to confirm that all conditions for restart have been met before low-power testing of the reactor begins. This testing is expected to last several weeks before the reactor can be returned to full operational status. The NCNR will keep its research community informed of progress toward a return to scientific operations.
All of NIST’s updates and reports on the 2021 incident and recovery, along with a Q&A and links to related NRC reports, can be found on the NIST website.”