The National Institute of Standards and Technology campus in Gaithersburg, which contains a civil nuclear research reactor filled with bomb-grade uranium, was faulted for lax security in a study released in August.
Fox News reported that the study by the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) found the 578-acre NIST campus to be “among the nuclear facilities which are most vulnerable to a possible terror attack.” In particular, Fox News said, the NIST campus and others cited in the study were determined to be “vulnerable to the theft of bomb-grade nuclear materials and sabotage attacks designed to cause a meltdown,” and were not as well-defended as military facilities holding the same types of nuclear materials.
Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz said the city does not have jurisdiction over the NIST facilities but expressed faith in the agency’s security efforts.
“It’s been there for years,” he said. “I believe that NIST is much more secure today than it has been in years past when you could just walk on the campus. I don’t know if you can ever be too safe, but I think they’re doing everything they can to make it as safe as possible.”
Katz also said the Gaithersburg police chief has been in touch with NIST’s police chief about security issues since the NPPP report was released.
Gail Porter, director of public affairs for NIST, pointed out that the agency’s Gaithersburg campus “is secured 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a well-trained federal police force.
“NIST takes the security of its nuclear research reactor very seriously,” she said. “Security at the facility meets or exceeds all requirements of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”
Porter also noted that the nuclear reactor at the NIST campus is relatively small, operating at 20 megawatts compared to 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts for a typical power reactor. The NIST reactor is used for research rather than power production.