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late 14c., "ruler, governor," from Latin moderator "manager, ruler, director," literally "he who moderates," from moderatus (see moderate (adj.)). Meaning "one who acts as an umpire" is from 1560s. Fem. form moderatrix attested from 1530s.
A substance, such as graphite, water, or heavy water, placed in a nuclear reactor to slow neutrons down to speeds at which they are more likely to be captured by fissionable components of a fuel (such as uranium-235) and less likely to be absorbed by nonfissionable components of a fuel (such as uranium-238). Also called neutron moderator. See also slow neutron.