A nuclear dinosaur

What do you do with an aging nuclear power plant that is going to be closed anyway in a little more than a year?

As the shutdown date for the Pilgrim nuclear power plant approaches, the 45-year-old facility in Plymouth is coughing and wheezing all the way to the grave, and local officials and activists are worried the end – and afterlife – will be problematic.

Pilgrim’s most recent problems occurred during the recent storms when, first, the owners did not shut the plant down even though the ability to evacuate should a problem occur was compromised by the weather. Plant officials did shut the reactor down leading up to the third storm, with a problem in the heating system, but when they went to restart, found a transformer needed to be replaced before turning the switch back on. It was just the latest problem to haunt the one-time reliable facility.

On Sunday, inspectors discovered a problem with a critical safety mechanism that is used to stop fission from occurring in the nuclear reactor. Officials discovered clamps on nine pipes used in a hydraulic system to control a shutdown and prevent nuclear fission were incorrectly installed. For the uninitiated, fission is the precursor to a meltdown.

Pilgrim has been an ingrained part of the landscape for the past four decades so not much attention has been paid to the plant’s problems. Or maybe it’s because the plant’s problems are so numerous recently that it’s become a case of crying wolf or people are just generally inured to the reports.

The Cape Cod Times, though, has been vigilant in reporting Pilgrim’s travails, running a deep, well-reported, and informative series in 2016 about Pilgrim and its nuclear cousins. Their more recent coverage includes some ominous details and warnings from the trove of experts the reporter, Christine Legere, has amassed.

“In an event such as an earthquake, the shaking could affect the pipes with the faulty clamps and result in a failure of the connected control rods to insert in Pilgrim’s reactor. Nuclear fission would then continue to occur,” the story says. “Operators might even have to resort to injecting a so-called ‘poison’ solution into the reactor to get nuclear fission to stop, according to Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The solution is made of a liquid boron. While plants are equipped with the backup pump system to ‘poison’ neutrons, it has yet to be used in the United States.”

For decades, nuclear power has been a mainstay of the country’s energy mix. It’s clean and, with some notable exceptions, such as Three Mile Island, had been problem-free. But as the nation’s inventory of aging reactors begin to meet their end, and with the frightening meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima plant after the tsunami, officials are trying to determine how best to handle the closures and storage of spent fuel issues.

California is near shutting down its last operating reactor. When Pilgrim shuts down in May, 2019, it will leave Seabrook in New Hampshire and the Millstone plant in Connecticut as the last two remaining nuclear plants in New England.

While some hail the demise of the nuclear age, others are concerned the shutdowns will leave the country short of its ability to meet future power needs. With the boom in oil and natural gas production, that’s not a problem many are concerned about right now.

But right now, the bigger problem is, should we worry about the safety of our dying fleet of reactors? That seems like a more immediate concern and one that should get more attention.

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Sen. Karen Spilka, the presumed next Senate president, says a troubled childhood helped her develop empathy and strength that informed her career path, including roles as a social worker and labor mediator. (Boston Globe)  Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas says the elbows flying between Spilka and current Senate President Harriette Chandler indicate the chamber has sunk to the “loco level.”

A Senate special committee recommends Massachusetts pass its own net neutrality law. (MassLive)

A Herald editorial criticizes proposed legislation to regulate Airbnb as overkill when it comes to small-time owners just looking to pocket a little extra income.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Peabody is struggling with a foul-smelling drinking water brought on by an algae bloom, according to state officials. (Salem News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Trump Justice Department pushes for a citizenship question on Census forms. (ProPublica)

Activists involved with the anti-gun violence demonstrations now face the challenge of sustaining their effort in face of political resistance to changing gun laws. (Boston Globe) Patriots owner Robert Kraft said it was an easy call to offer his plane to carry survivors and family members of victims of the school killings in Parkland, Florida, to Saturday’s march in Washington against gun violence. (Boston Herald)

EDUCATION

Andover police arrested a junior at the high school who posted a threat on Snapchat. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Southbridge school system, which is under state receivership, seeks state aid to cope with the loss of students and money to a charter school in Sturbridge. (Telegram & Gazette)

The federal Appeals Court in Boston rejected an appeal by a Maine couple who wanted to have their 19-year-old autistic son carry an audio recording device to tape his day at school so they would know if he was being treated properly. (Associated Press)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The family-owned Fallon Ambulance Service in Quincy, one the largest ambulance service on the South Shore until it lost its 911 contract with the town of Weymouth, has been sold to Wellesley-based Transformative Healthcare, making it the largest ambulance provider in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (Patriot Ledger)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA is considering congestion pricing for parking spaces at its garages and lots. (CommonWealth) Congestion pricing to relieve traffic backups on roads is becoming increasingly popular across the country. In Virginia, prices vary depending on traffic levels, and at brief times the cost of a trip into and out of Washington has cost $40. (Governing)

Wait times stretched to as long as five hours as the state Registry of Motor Vehicles launched the new Real ID requirements for drivers’ licenses. (Boston Globe)

Ari Ofsevit, in the second part of his series on Seaport congestion, says buses, not gondolas, are the answer. (CommonWealth) For a broader discussion about the potential of buses, and Boston’s failure to promote them, check out this story and the Codcast.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Experts call for a regional plan to help Boston develop better flood control and stormwater management measures. (Boston Globe)

The state has waived some environmental permitting requirements for Cape Cod to allow expedited repairs in the wake of the nor’easters earlier this month. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Bourne voters at a special Town Meeting rejected two proposals to ban the sale of marijuana. (Cape Cod Times)

Add Hull to the growing list of communities that have enacted a ban on the sale of recreational marijuana, with voters approving two referendum questions in a special election with sparse turnout. (Patriot Ledger)

Wynn Resorts general counsel Kim Sinatra told a Boston conference on women’s leadership that her company has gone through a “corporate meltdown,” but she didn’t elaborate on the presumed reference to the sexual assault allegations that led to the exit of founder Steve Wynn. (Boston Herald)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Gov. Charlie Baker said the withholding from state officials of years of payroll records for State Police who work at Logan Airport was “clearly deliberate.” (Boston Globe)

A MassINC Polling Group survey for the Hyams Foundation found that black Bostonians have less confidence in the police and court systems than whites, Asian-Americans, and Latinos. (Boston Globe)

A State Police dispatcher already suspended for posting video evidence and opinions on social media about a fatal crash is now under investigation for comments she made on Facebook about a woman who overdosed and was revived with Narcan.The dispatcher said the woman should be “left to rot” and called her a “selfish piece of (excrement)..” (The Enterprise)

Very strange. A Texas man called police saying he believed someone was breaking into his hotel room in Tewksbury and asked the officers to check it out because he had a sidearm there. Police investigated and found lots of weapons, including assault rifles. The man said he needed the weapons because he was on a government mission. (Lowell Sun)

Police and community advocates are both seeing the benefits of police-worn body cameras in Boston. (Boston Globe)

A Quincy man was found guilty of 11 counts animal cruelty for torturing his young pit bull in a case that became known as “Puppy Doe.” (Patriot Ledger)

MEDIA

GateHouse Media makes another Massachusetts acquisition — this time the family-owned Gardner News. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night drew the show’s highest ratings in 10 years. (CNN)