The Download: Nuclear fear factors

Fears about nuclear power increase with each new, catastrophic development in Japan. In Germany, people took to the streets after last week’s earthquake to protest against nuclear power. Not needing any further prodding, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the physicist-turned-politician, quickly ordered the immediate shutdown of seven pre-1980 built plants. The Washington Post rounds up public reaction in Europe and Asia to Japan’s nuclear crisis here.

In Washington, many nuclear power aficionados have gone quiet. Mother Jones finds that while Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican, and others, aren’t backing down, Obama administration officials and others key supporters in the Senate are keeping their heads down.  The Boston Globe weighs-in with its view on how the US should respond to the “deep anxieties…spreading across the US.”

Meanwhile, New England politicians hover between outrage and no rage.  Two nuclear plants operated by Entergy, Plymouth’s Pilgrim Station and Vermont’s Yankee, have leaked radioactive material in the past, and Pilgrim experienced a mysterious security “deficiency” last year, which prompted US Rep. Ed Markey to demand why information about the problem wasn’t released to the public. 

On Beacon Hill, Lt. Gov Tim Murray assured the public Tuesday that Pilgrim’s operators have assured the state that the facility is safe. Unfortunately for Murray, there are too many known unknowns at Pilgrim.

However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has placed a temporary hold on Yankee’s recently granted federal license. Opponents are not amused; they want more assurances. The 39-year-old Yankee reactor’s design is similar to the one at Japan’s disintegrating Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. On top of that, a 5.0 tremor on the Ontario-Quebec border affected the area last year, but the plant did not sustain any damage.

An Entergy official dismissed fears about seismic events, telling The Boston Globe “We are not going to have a tsunami on the Connecticut River.”  But the plant is on the edge of the riverbank. So Arnold Gundersen, a nuclear advisor to the Vermont Legislature, shot back with this dire scenario: A pump failure due to a power outage, plus flooding could lead to the same cooling problems seen in Japan.

Gundersen told Reuters, “We really need to go back and evaluate what really is the worst case,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve take a hard look at what the worst case is for Vermont Yankee’s flood issues.”

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, the Amherst Democrat, told the Springfield Republican that he plans to encourage Vermont lawmakers to oppose the federal extension. The Vernon, Vermont plant sits near the Massachusetts border and seven towns, Bernardston, Colrain, Gill, Greenfield, Leyden, Northfield, and Warwick are in the plant’s evacuation zone. (The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency has more about nuclear radiation emergencies here.)

Vermont is the only state in the country where lawmakers have a say in nuclear power plant licensing. Last year, the Vermont Senate voted against issuing a new state permit. Under current state law, the plant would shutdown next year, the federal extension or no. Entergy has to gauge whether it’s feeling lucky enough to take on Vermont in federal court over the licensing issue.

Then there are those observers who believe that the hand-wringing is all for naught. National Review editor Jonah Goldberg dismisses the increasing concerns about the safety of nuclear plants, saying the Japan disaster is creating a climate of hysteria that ignores basic facts.

                                                                                                                                                                        –GABRIELLE GURLEY


House Speaker Robert DeLeo outlined proposed hiring reforms yesterday for state jobs in reaction to the scandal involving patronage hiring in the Probation Department, the Globe reports. Globe columnist Scot Lehigh liked what he heard from DeLeo about probation hiring (and dealing with soaring municipal health care costs). Here is CommonWealth’s take on the speech. A Boston Herald editorial endorses  DeLeo‘s probation agenda over Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan.


Nearly all the 1,100 jobs at a Fidelity Investments office in Marlborough will be moved out of state, mostly to New Hampshire and Rhode Island. When the move is complete by the end of next year, Fidelity will have about 7,300 jobs in Massachusetts, just over half of its Bay State workforce of 13,000 just five years ago, reports the Globe. Lt. Gov. Tim Murray said yesterday that the administration would assist workers who are laid off from Fidelity’s Marlboro headquarters in finding new employment.

Keller@Large says Fidelity is fleeing Massachusetts because the state continues to have a harsh business climate for companies to succeed, although he points to no empirical data.

The Lowell Sun reports on two experts who say that Evergreen Solar’s move to China was less about labor costs and more about access to capital.


It’s now Boston City Councilor-elect Tito Jackson, following yesterday’s special election that was long destined to be a rout, not a race. He attracted 82 percent of the vote. The Hearld’s take is here.


The federal government won’t shut down for another three weeks, and not everybody is thrilled.

House Republicans are getting totally shredded in just 90 days with a late-night workout DVD

A revolving door swings outgoing FHA commissioner David Stevens into the top job at the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The Wall Street Journal is not a fan of Elizabeth Warren.

Former US Rep. William Delahunt passed out $100,000 in staff bonuses on his way out of the Capitol.


City officials say a long-term plan to remake Boston’s City Hall Plaza, one modest-sized bite at a time, is now on track. And they mean it this time. Seriously.

Lawrence police would like an apology from Mayor William Lantigua over comments he made which seemed to blame city police for the rise of car thefts in Lawrence.

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has been traveling to political events outside of Salem as she continues to think about a run for US Senate.

Gloucester considers billing residents’ insurance companies for fire department responses, reports the Gloucester Times.

The Lowell City Council is in favor of banning Level 3 sex offenders from a city library, the Lowell Sun reports.

The FBI is investigating the Rehoboth Police Department, over allegations that officers conducted an illegal background check on a local official.

The Cambridge School Committee approved an overhaul of that city’s school system.


President Barack Obama is wrapping his Republican detractors up in a big bear hug of complements

A one-term Louisiana governor from forever ago wants to slay the dragon once again, and this time the dragon is Mitt Romney

The American Spectator says this week’s poll showing Sen. Scott Brown’s favorability among Bay State voters is not a right turn in Massachusetts politics but rather a reflection of the reality that Brown is more a “Reagan Democrat” than a Tea Party conservative.

The core of New Hampshire’s economy – never-ending presidential wannabe visits – is showing signs of fatigue with less than a year to go before the first-in-the-nation primary as potential contenders are not flocking to the Granite State with as much regularity or gusto as before.


The strange case of the man aptly dubbed “Crockefeller” by the Boston Herald took a more somber turn with charges filed against him yesterday in connection with a 1985 murder in California.

A former chairman of Saugus’s Board of Selectmen has been found guilty of sexually abusing a Boy Scout in New Hampshire, the Lynn Daily Item reports.


The Gloucester Times argues that New Hampshire should pay for the cleanup of plastic discs from a sewage treatment plant that are washing up on Massachusetts shores. Meanwhile, the Clean River Project set up traps in the Merrimack River yesterday in an attempt to catch any remaining discs.


The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reports that despite budget problems at UMass, the Medical School Chancellor received a 12 percent pay raise in a recent contract agreement.

An otherwise positive report on Beverly High School finds students spend too much time in study halls, the Salem News reports.


WBUR reports on the work of Newton nonprofit Chronic Care Community Corps, who is helping families caring for elderly relatives cope.


A congressional committee is cool to public transit systems‘ pleas for more federal funding. 

Forget California’s high-speed train to nowhere; Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell makes the pitch for heavy investment in the Northeast Corridor. 


Paul Levy calls attention to a Journal of the American Medical Association study that shows the use of MRIs and CT scans in hospital emergency rooms nearly tripled since 1998 without an equal increase in life-threatening conditions. CommonWealth had a story on advanced medical imaging last summer that said the increase in using the devices is fueling much of the health care cost increases.

South Shore Hospital will be reimbursing the federal government more than $340,000 after auditors found hundreds of erroneous Medicare bills.


Yankee Stadium parking lots struggle to service their bonds. 

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