Nuclear wasted

Since the Shippingport Atomic Power Plant in Pennsylvania went online nearly 60 years ago, becoming the first peacetime use of nuclear power in the world, proponents have touted the low cost and clean output of nukes, which can supply energy for generations.

More than 130 nuclear plants were built in the ensuing years, including two in Massachusetts, Yankee Rowe out west and Pilgrim in Plymouth. Five more are under construction in the country, the first new nuclear plants in the US in more than 20 years. But more than 30 have been decommissioned, including Yankee Rowe, and the remaining plants are showing their age.

The average age of the 99 operating plants in the United States is 36 years and the cost to maintain them is beginning to take its toll on owners. With the flood of cheap natural gas and growing reliance on solar and wind, some are beginning to question just how much nuclear is a part of the energy equation going forward.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s main trade group, says the cost to run the plants has increased by 28 percent since 2002. Last year, electricity markets paid as little as 2 cents per kilowatt hour due primarily to cheap gas, solar, and wind sources. The nuclear plants required 50 percent more revenue just to break even.

Nuclear accounts for just under 20 percent of the nation’s energy mix, a level proponents say is economically sustainable. But with the emerging solar and wind markets and more reliance on hydro and other sustainable sources, that level is bound to drop while costs to run the plants continues to climb.

The 44-year-old Pilgrim plant is a microcosm of the nation’s problem. The aging facility needs millions in safety upgrades and shuts down so often for maintenance and operation issues that it’s no longer cost-effective for Entergy, the plant’s owner, to keep it running. Entergy has decided to shut the plant down permanently by 2018 but the closure is exposing a multitude of problems that nuclear opponents have been screaming about for years.

As it stands, with no place to bury spent fuel rods, Entergy will have to store the radioactive waste in casks on-site, a decision that is not setting well with the locals. They worry that with no income, the company will put little effort into maintaining safety and security. State Sen. Dan Wolf of Harwich has filed a bill requiring Entergy to pay $25 million a year into a fund to ensure there is enough money to address problems.

With names such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima becoming well-known trigger words in the discussion, as well as growing worries over terrorism, there are concerns about the safety of the plants. A report five years ago found 75 percent of nuclear plants have experienced radiation leaks. Plants outside New York City and Miami have recently reported leaks and residents in South Florida are facing contaminated drinking water they say is caused by radiation.

Just to the north in Seabrook, the long-controversial power plant is under close watch by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as the concrete walls show signs of cracking. The concrete is exhibiting what engineers term alkali silica reaction, a chemical reaction that can cause expansion in the concrete and create micro-cracks. It’s similar to what occurred in concrete railroad ties in Massachusetts and elsewhere, causing them to crumble and break.

There are no easy fixes, like shutting down a wind turbine or leaving solar panels to collect dust if they’re not profitable. Though the worst fears of opponents may not be coming to fruition, the promises of nuclear power don’t appear to be as solid as once hoped. The future, it seems, is not forever.




The Senate prepares to unveil a charter school bill that tries to please both supporters and critics of a ballot question expanding charters. (State House News)

Gov. Charlie Baker signs legislation ending most automatic driver’s license suspensions for most  drug offenders. (WBUR)

Leaders of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership say a zoning reform bill reported out of a legislative committee earlier this month would go a long way toward addressing the state’s persistent housing crisis. (CommonWealth)

Rep. Gloria Fox of Roxbury says she won’t seek reelection. (State House News)


A UMass study says a slowdown in state aid and rising costs will make it difficult for Lawrence to balance its budget. (Eagle-Tribune)

A consultant hired by the town of Barre says the police chief is a nice guy but has to go because of the toxic environment in the police department. (Telegram & Gazette)

Haverhill City Council Joseph Bevilacqua wants to promote tourism using Amtrak line. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Boston City Council passes a measure banning city-funded travel to North Carolina because of the state’s recent adoption of a law prohibiting transgender individuals from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. (Boston Globe)


Renee Graham says the US media and public have a double standard when it comes to reporting on victims of terrorism, with attacks in Europe getting far more attention. (Boston Globe)

Barney Frank talks to Slate about lots of stuff. Keller@Large says Frank’s just a big troll.


After repeated questioning, Donald Trump backs punishment for women who get abortions, and then backtracks. (Time)

Republican women voters are not so taken with Donald Trump. (Boston Globe)

Joan Vennochi says the media would do well to try to understand the low regard in which they’re held by the public, which goes a long way toward understanding how Trump has ridden a wave of media-bashing to the top of the GOP heap. (Boston Globe)

A Norfolk Superior Court judge has ordered the city to appoint William Harris, the second-place finisher for a ward seat on the City Council, to fill the vacant post caused by the death of Councilor Brian McNamee before he could be sworn in for the new term. The decision throws into question whether to hold a scheduled special election if the city appeals. (Patriot Ledger)


Five of the leading US women soccer players are set to file a wage discrimination complaint against US Soccer, saying they are paid substantially less than their male counterparts even though the women’s team is the economic driver of the federation. (New York Times)

The taxpayer-funded nonprofit that runs the stadium housing the Brockton Rox is considering selling the naming rights to the facility. (The Enterprise)


Because of a shrinking pool of candidates, school districts are luring retired superintendents back to run systems, where they collect hefty salaries and generous pensions at the same time. (Boston Globe)

Compensation packages for top administrators at Massachusetts public colleges and universities are loaded with perks ranging from housing allowances to free tuition for children. (New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

Weymouth Mayor Robert Hedlund criticized the search committee for a new superintendent for recommending a single candidate, saying the panel “is in effect choosing the next superintendent” without a public vetting process of all qualified candidates. (Patriot Ledger)

A former instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy has been permanently barred from the campus because of sexual misconduct with students in the 1970s and 1980s. (Boston Globe)

The Suffolk saga continues, as the Herald’s Joe Battenfeld reports that the school’s board of trustees and university president Margaret McKenna are battling over efforts by the board to look into allegations of misspending of expense money by McKenna brought by PR honcho George Regan, whose contract she ended.

A day after a report of more racially-charged social media messages being sent by a Boston Latin School student, the head of the local NAACP calls for the dismissal of the school’s headmaster. (Boston Herald)

A Salem State University professor appears to have been stabbed by a student. (Salem News)


Attorney General Maura Healey’s office suggests one way to deal with the disparity in hospital pricing is for health insurers to adjust premiums based on who a customer chooses as their primary care physician. Those who choose doctors affiliated with an expensive, less efficient health care system would pay more, and those who pick a physician affiliated with a cheaper, more efficient system would pay less. (CommonWealth)

Southcoast Health System, which runs three hospitals in New Bedford, Fall River, and Wareham, is laying off 95 employees, citing a 6 percent increase in expenses. (Standard-Times)

State Auditor Suzanne Bump has approved a plan to privatize mental health services in the southeastern region of Massachusetts at an estimated savings of $7 million, a decision that is a win for the Baker administration and has drawn the ire of unions representing mental health workers. (State House News Service)


Ari Ofsevit, Jeremy Mendelson, and Jim Aloisi offer a plan for all-night MBTA service at what they say is a reasonable price. (CommonWealth)

Boston Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, who helmed the late stages of the late Boston 2024 Olympic bid, tells Reuters that a well-functioning MBTA wouldn’t have been crucial to a successful Games after all.’s Eric Levenson’s is taken aback, calling it a “major shift from Boston 2024’s core philosophy of a ‘walkable, sustainable’ Olympics that heavily relied on the transit system. In addition, Pagliuca and other Olympic executives promoted the Olympics by arguing it would spur investment in the MBTA.”

Boston City Councilor Frank Baker wants to lower speed limits on city streets from 30 mph to 20 mph. (Boston)

Uber Pool could prove to be a transformatively big deal. (New York Times)

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds the headlights of more than 30 top-selling midsize cars do not do a good enough job illuminating dark roads. (Associated Press)


The owner and management company of the Berkshire Power Plant in Agawam plead guilty and agree to pay $8.5 million to settle charges of tampering with emissions equipment. (Masslive)

On a motion by Attorney General Maura Healey, a judge delays a bid by Kinder Morgan to start cutting down trees in Otis State Forest to make way for a pipeline spur. (Berkshire Eagle)

The state has awarded a $950,000 grant to Barnstable County to develop a regional water quality management initiative to address the problem of high nutrients from sewage that causes algae in Cape Cod bays and ponds. (Cape Cod Times)


Two cows were killed and a third remains missing after they escaped their enclosures in Dartmouth and wandered onto Interstate 195, where they were struck by an alleged drunken driver. (Standard-Times)


Nate Silver examines how Donald Trump hacked the media. (FiveThirtyEight)

Dante Ramos considers what it means when a silly tweet goes viral. Going viral, he concludes, “isn’t a feature of social media. It’s a bug.” (Boston Globe)

A state-funded PR campaign to promote Rhode Island tourism has become a PR embarrassment. (Boston Globe)