Workers exposed to radiation at NIST research reactor in Gaithersburg

The National Institute of Standards and Technology says several of its workers were exposed to elevated levels of radiation at a research reactor in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on Wednesday morning, but had no indication of leakage into the surrounding community.

NIST — a physical sciences laboratory under the U.S. Department of Commerce — said that a radiation alarm was triggered on its Gaithersburg campus around 9:15 a.m. Wednesday during a restart of a neutron research reactor following routine maintenance.

Several workers were exposed to the elevated radiation levels during the restart and are undergoing decontamination and evaluation, according to a statement from the NIST Center for Neutron Research. Staff immediately initiated a shutdown of the reactor.

“All systems appear to have worked as designed and all protocols were followed in a timely manner,” NIST said in a news release.

The reactor is housed in a confinement building on NIST’s Gaithersburg campus. The laboratory describes that building as a special area designed to contain radioactive materials, with equipment including a filtered ventilation system.

Radiation levels outside the facility remain below regulatory limits, NIST said, adding it has notified the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the event and will continue to evaluate data from air monitors to ensure the safety of its workers and local community.

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