Category Archives: Services

Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress

The AP-1000 nuclear power-plant design from the U.S. Westinghouse division of Toshiba in Japan may become the major and perhaps sole survivor of competition in “third generation” nuclear. Eight units are currently under construction in the United States and China. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) from Areva of France has four units under construction in Finland, France and China. However, it is currently on life-support, owing to design and testing scandals and to major manufacturing defects.

“Third generation” nuclear from Rosatom in Russia, Kepco in South Korea and Hitachi in Japan gained little traction outside countries of origin. No plants are under construction, and no financing has been announced for deals reported with governments in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Poland and India. A former barrier to manufacturing–as of 2009 only one plant, located in Japan, able to produce critical components–has been overcome by large, new steel forging facilities in several countries, including China, Korea, India and the United States.

There are other claimants to “third generation” technology–not credited by international business. In Japan, Hitachi completed four ABWR units in the 1990s. All remain idle in the aftermath of the March, 2011, nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Using French technology, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in Guangdong province developed the CPR-1000 design. Like the Hitachi ABWR, it produces a slightly improved “second generation” nuclear power-plant. More recently, possibly using technology from the AP-1000, CGN announced another cheapened design called ACC1000 at first and more recently 华龙一 Hualong One, couched in Chlingish, or HPR-1000. A prototype has been announced for the Fuqing plant in Fujian province, which currently has two CPR-1000 units.

Schedules and costs: There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear units under construction in the United States, using the Rev. 19 design–providing aircraft impact resistance–approved in 2011 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are four units under construction in China using the Rev. 15 design, documented in 2006 by the U.S. but lacking aircraft impact resistance. A nationalized company in China licensed the Rev. 15 design and announced plans to build 10 or more additional units. Rev. 19 of the AP-1000 received “interim” approval by the UK in 2011. Currently, UK officials remain conflicted about whether to build EPR units. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has registered slow movement toward final AP-1000 approval.

An AP-1000 unit in Sanmen, China looks likely to become the first “third generation” nuclear unit to operate. Chinese industry got a head start by adopting the Rev. 15 design, rejected for U.S. plants. However, all AP-1000 projects world-wide are around three years behind schedule. The worst delays were caused by test failures of coolant pumps built by Curtis-Wright of Cheswick, PA. Those were controversial elements, based on technology developed for U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Each AP-1000 unit has four of the pumps, using an innovative, sealed design unproven in industrial applications. After delivery delays of up to about two years, revised pumps have been installed at four of the eight AP-1000 units currently under construction. The revised pump designs are apparently not part of the Rev. 15 technology licensed to Chinese industry.

Fully burdened costs of AP-1000 units in the U.S. were recently reported more than $7 a watt, nearly a factor of two cost overrun. Full cost of the EPR unit at Flamanville, France is also reported at over $7 a watt–and still growing. Both European EPR projects are around ten years behind schedule, with cost overruns at least a factor of three. Schedules for the two EPR units in Taishan, China leaped ahead of the two in Europe, under a less demanding regime of regulation. However, schedules for all EPR projects are now in question from recent threats of catastrophic failure, owing to major manufacturing defects that remain under review in Europe.

Safety concerns: Safety concerns are always relative. Fatalities in automobile crashes per miles of vehicle travel probably peaked in the United States during 1900 through 1920, years before the U.S. government compiled records. Since 24.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles for 1921, official tallies fell almost continuously to a low of 1.08 for 2014. For decades, however, the lures of automobile travel distracted U.S. attention from the dangers, while enthusiasm surged.

Lures of nuclear power in China and several other countries will more likely be weighed against hazards of alternatives rather than against hazards of nuclear power-plants. Hazards in those countries are dominated by large-scale burning of coal. Chinese steel, smelting and cement plants have been expanding rapidly, most of them burning coal. Over the past ten years, China added more than 800 coal-fired power units averaging 600 MW capacity. Academic research published in the summer of 2015 attributed more than a million and a half deaths per year in China to air pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 6, 2016


First two AP1000s move closer to commissioning in China, World Nuclear News (UK), May 26, 2016

Scott Judy, U.S. contractor shake-up stirs nuclear project’s acceleration, Engineering News Record (Troy, MI), March 31, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association (UK), 2016

Fatality analysis reporting system, U.S. National Highway Safety Administration, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unraveling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Rod Adams, Reactor coolant pumps for AP-1000 still a problem, Atomic Insights (Crystal City, VA), August 29, 2015

Dan Levin, Study links polluted air in China to 1.6 million deaths a year, New York Times, August 14, 2015

As U.S. shutters coal plants, China and Japan are building them, Institute for Energy Research (Washington, DC), April 23, 2015

UK assessment of AP-1000 design advances, World Nuclear News (UK), March 12, 2015

Robert Ladefian, The world’s largest canned motor pump, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), January 1, 2013

AP-1000 overview (Westinghouse), International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), 2011

Sven Baumgarten, Bernhard Brecht, Uwe Bruhns and Pete Fehring, Reactor coolant pump type RUV for Westinghouse reactor AP-1000, American Nuclear Society, Paper 10339, Proceedings of the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants, June 13-17, 2010

Stephen V. Mladineo and Charles D. Ferguson, On the Westinghouse AP-1000 sale to China and its possible military implications, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (Arlington, VA), March 29, 2008

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects

Recent reports show hidden risks of catastrophic failure at dozens of nuclear power-plants, world wide. Those include the Millstone plant in Waterford, CT. They arise from previously unreported manufacturing defects and potential defects in large mechanical components produced at Creusot Forge in France. That manufacturer–soon to be controlled by Électricité de France (EDF), the French power utility–has been in operation since the eighteenth century.

A foundry at Le Creusot, in the highlands of central France, opened in 1782 to make cannons for the kings of France. It has produced steel forgings since 1876. As of 2010, it had the third-largest forging equipment in Europe, featuring a 17 million pound-force press, built in 1956, and a 25 million pound-force press, built in 2008. Its heaviest press can produce thick-wall metal cylinders up to 19 ft in diameter.

Areva–the French nuclear conglomerate once known as Framatome and soon to join with EDF–bought the Creusot factory in 2006 from the Schneider enterprises, its operators since 1835. Areva and predecessors have employed the factory since the 1950s to design and produce large mechanical components of nuclear power-plants: reactor vessels, steam generator shells and pressurizer shells.

Creusot Forge has supplied hundreds of large components for many industrial plants now operating in Europe, Asia, the United States, South America and Africa. Faulty components went to three European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) nuclear units that are under construction in Flamanville, France, and in Taishan, China. Others were produced for two EPR units proposed at Hinkley Point in the UK. Faulty components have already been installed in France and China.

Nature of defects: Yves Marignac of World Information Service on Energy in Paris has supplied a detailed description of the EPR defects. They affect the heads and bottom caps of reactor vessels. Such a vessel is made from large forged parts: a “head,” a cylinder segment with ports for cooling water, two plain cylinder segments and a bottom cap. The last four are welded together, and the head is bolted on top.

Heads and bottom caps have been reported to have major defects caused by improper forging performed at the Creusot Forge factory. According to Mr. Marignac, portions of those thick metal parts have too much carbon in the steel, tending to make them less resistant to thermal shock than they need to be. In the event of a rapid cooldown to recover from an equipment problem, they would be prone to rupture, leading to catastrophic failure.

According to Mr. Marignac, the forging problem leading to “carbon segregation” is an issue known in industry that can be controlled by manufacturing techniques. When Creusot Forge made the EPR parts, starting in 2006, one of each type was supposed to be tested for the “carbon segregation” issue. That requires drilling into a part, extracting solid samples and analyzing them–destroying the part. However, the run of EPR parts, six of each type, was completed without such testing.

Eventually the French nuclear regulatory agency required testing, performed in the fall of 2014. Test failures were soon found. However, by that time three EPR reactor vessels had been completed. They had been delivered to one reactor under construction in Flamanville, France and two under construction in Taishan, China. There they had been installed and connected to other equipment. Reactor vessels and possibly other major components at those sites may have to be removed and scrapped, causing long delays and huge added costs. The Flamanville project is already many years behind schedule, and it has suffered at least a factor of three cost overrun.

Hidden defects: After learning about the defects in EPR reactor vessels, the French nuclear regulatory agency required an audit of nuclear-part manufacturing performed at the Creusot Forge factory. That uncovered potential defects in more than 400 large parts, going back to 1965. The agency has suspended the operating license for one French nuclear-power unit (Fessenheim Unit 2), found to have a defective part. At least 18 French nuclear-power units are being investigated for defects.

Based on the audit in France, at least 17 U.S. nuclear-power units are at risk from potentially defective parts made at the Creusot Forge factory. For example, Millstone Unit 2 in Waterford, CT, has a potentially defective replacement pressurizer. Some units have more than one potential defect. Kerri Kavanagh, a division head at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, released a statement last June, committing to “appropriate regulatory and enforcement action if we find issues of safety significance.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 3, 2016


Benjamin Leveau, EDF reactor may remain shut after regulator suspends certificate, Nucleonics Week (Platts, UK), July 19, 2016

French regulator investigating components in 18 reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), June 29, 2016

Kerri Kavanagh, Quality assurance issues in France: implications for U.S. plants, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, June 20, 2016

Quentin Philippe, Is the EPR nuclear reactor fit for the current market?, Energy Post (Amsterdam), June 20, 2016

Anomalies and suspected falsifications at Areva’s Creusot Forge site, Greenpeace France, June 13, 2016

Nick Butler, EDF’s real problem is Flamanville not Hinkley Point, Financial Times (UK), May 14, 2016

Yves Marignac, Defauts de fabrication sur la cuve du reacteur EPR de Flamanville-3, [in English at GreenWorld] Fabrication flaws in the pressure vessel of the EPR Flamanville-3, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), April 13, 2016

Creusot Forge and Creusot Mécanique, Areva Group (France, in English), 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unravelling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Oliver Tickell, Flamanville nuclear safety fail sounds death knell for Hinkley C, The Ecologist (UK), October 2, 2015

Henry Samuel, Areva aware ‘as early as 2006′ of serious fault in nuclear reactor destined for UK, London Telegraph (UK), July 9, 2015

Ernest Kao, Hong Kong experts flag fresh concern over Guangdong nuclear plant, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), April 19, 2015

John Lichfield, UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project, Independent (London), April 17, 2015

Peter Thornton and Vito J. Colangelo, Variation of mechanical properties in large steel forgings, Watervliet Arsenal, U.S. Army, 1975

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Labor rights for U.S. domestic workers

Labor standards–wages, hours, benefits and age limits–were a thin patchwork in the U.S. until the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938. The Franklin Roosevelt administration considered FLSA its most significant social legislation after the Social Security Act of 1935. In its initial form, FLSA provided a 25-cent-an-hour minimum wage, a 44-hour straight-time work week, time-and-a-half pay for overtime and a minimum working age of 16. However, there were exceptions and exclusions.

The Roosevelt administration was opposed by an unreconstructed Supreme Court, losing the issues in a 1935 case [Schechter Poultry] and losing in its “court packing” efforts of 1937. To resolve Constitutional issues, FLSA focused on occupations related to interstate commerce–notably manufacturing–generally omitting coverage for agriculture, construction and many services: transportation, retail trade, government, health care, education, publishing, machinery repair and domestic work.

The 1938 law also excluded coverage for union shops, as endorsed by both AFL and CIO out of fears that a wage floor might presage a wage ceiling. It survived two Supreme Court challenges in 1941. [Darby and Opp Cotton] By then, former Pres. Roosevelt was serving a third term and had appointed a majority of the Court: Justices Hugo Black, Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas and Frank Murphy.

Strengthening standards: Since World War II, labor standards have gradually been strengthened through four main channels:
• FLSA regulations, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• FLSA amendments, removing and modifying exceptions and exclusions
• state and local standards, expanding coverage and increasing requirements
• interpretations, policies and lawsuits sometimes expanding coverage

Trends in federal minimum wage

FederalMinimumHourlyWage1938to2016
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

There have been three notable eras in federal minimum wage. The Franklin Roosevelt through the Lyndon Johnson administrations substantially increased the wage level, starting around $4 an hour and growing to around $10 an hour–in 2016 dollars–during 1938 through 1968. The Nixon through the Reagan administrations substantially shrank the wage level, from around $10 to around $6, during 1968 through 1988. The Herbert Bush through the Obama administrations maintained a stagnant wage level between about $6 and $8, during 1988 through 2016.

Labor standards in retail trade made progress through state initiatives–notably in setting minimum wages. Every state now has laws that benefit some workers outside the initial FSLA focus. Even in the “at will,” “right to work,” wage-and-hours-free state of Mississippi, employers can’t fire a worker because of jury service, if a worker provides “reasonable notice.” As of the start of 2016, more than half the states had a statewide minimum wage higher than the federal standard: 29 states plus the District of Columbia.

Currently the District is highest at $11.50 an hour, while California and Massachusetts are next at $10.00–to be compared with the $7.25 federal standard since July, 2009. Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee have no state minimum wage. Georgia and Wyoming wage levels are below the federal minimum. The Deep South was the region most hostile to FLSA in the 1930s and remains the region most hostile to labor today.

Coverage struggles: Since early years of labor standards, starting with the first laws enacted in 1912 by Massachusetts, many groups of workers did not benefit. The U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in both initial and current forms, begins by stating a focus on “industries engaged in commerce or in the production of goods for commerce.” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 2(a) and 29 USC 202(a)] “Commerce” under FLSA has been limited, both initially and now, to mean “trade…among the several States….” [P.L. 75-718, Sec. 3(b) and 29 USC 203(b)]

FLSA allows states and cities to enact stronger requirements. During the Truman and Eisenhower administrations, some states and cities began to close gaps in wage and hour coverage left in 1938. So far, no labor scholar has published an inventory of those initiatives, but sectors often involved appear to be retail trade, construction and transportation.

At the same time, business interests began to promote anti-union, “right to work” laws, authorized under the 1947 federal Taft-Hartley Act. The earliest of them, predating the act, was an amendment to the Arkansas constitution. Statewide laws are currently found in 25 states that are generally hostile to labor.

“Right to work” states

RightToWorkStated2016
Source: AFL-CIO, 2016

The Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations began to expand FLSA coverage beyond narrow views of interstate commerce dating from the Great Depression and earlier. FLSA amendments enacted in 1961 included employees of retail trade firms with at least $1 million in annual revenue. Amendments enacted in 1966 included employees of schools, nursing homes, construction firms, commercial laundries and large farms.

Domestic workers: Sustaining work performed inside and near homes–care for children, the elderly, sick and disabled, cleaning, cooking, pet and plant care, laundry and other household services–had not been a focus of federal and state standards, in contrast with work performed away from homes. Domestic work currently remains at the far reaches of labor standards in most states.

A pioneering effort in Massachusetts–coordinated by Melnea Cass, the legendary Boston activist for civil rights and housing–resulted in the first state labor standards law covering most domestic workers. Chapter 760 of the Acts of 1970 provided coverage under the state’s wage and hours law: minimum wage, maximum weekly straight-time hours, overtime pay and contributions to Social Security and Medicare. For workers employed more than 16 hours per week, the 1970 law required workers compensation and unemployment insurance. These were all standards that had applied to most other jobs in Massachusetts.

FLSA amendments enacted in 1974 set federal standards for some domestic workers but specifically excluded workers providing “companionship services for individuals who…are unable to care for themselves.” It also excluded all live-in workers from overtime pay benefits. [29 USC 213] Intermittent and varying work hours and direct employment by householders have proven to be areas of difficulty. Some observers estimate that two-thirds or more of U.S. employers subject to FLSA fail to comply fully with the law.

In 2013, the Obama administration revised regulations to extend FLSA coverage to all domestic workers employed by agencies, regardless of duties, effective at the start of 2015. However, some workers without specialized training may not be eligible for overtime pay, and workers directly employed by householders remained excluded from coverage. These and other gaps are slowly being addressed by state laws specific to domestic workers.

As of August, 2016, seven states had enacted some form of enhanced labor standards for domestic workers, and in six states those had come into effect. The first new law was in New York, enacted in 2010, followed by Hawaii and California in 2013, Massachusetts in 2014, Oregon and Connecticut in 2015 and Illinois in 2016. None of these states have enacted anti-union, right to work laws. While provisions of the recent laws about domestic workers vary greatly, most take into account special situations of live-in workers.

Connecticut has the weakest of the new laws, providing only a guard against harassment. Massachusetts and Hawaii probably have the strongest. Only Massachusetts requires sick leave and parenting leave. Only Hawaii requires disability and health care insurance. Most states require time-and-a-half overtime pay, workers compensation insurance and unemployment insurance. Massachusetts had already required those benefits, since 1970. Most new laws require at least a day per week off-duty and some amount of paid personal leave. Some of the new requirements are stronger than those of federal labor laws and regulations.

Information and compliance: Elusive elements affecting standards for domestic work remain information and compliance. That generally takes organization. NAACP chapters were involved during pioneering efforts in Massachusetts, in the 1970s. More recently, National Domestic Workers Alliance, first located in New York City but now in Chicago, was organized in 2007 from experience with Domestic Workers United, founded in 2000 in New York City. Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers was founded in 2010 and is located in Boston.

During the last few years, the domestic worker organizations and their academic partners have surveyed many domestic workers and employers in several U.S. cities. They provide unique information about work experiences and direct employment by householders. So far, however, most publications do not measure a shadow economy of unreported wages and undocumented workers that are sometimes mentioned in general media but rarely surveyed. A UCLA survey of about 500 direct employer households reported 14 percent paying “out of pocket.”

As anyone who has run an above-ground small business knows, complying accurately with labor law is complex. So far, no state has set up a clearing house to provide simple and centralized access to required record-keeping, reporting and payments. Large payroll services–PayChex and ADP–do not provide all the services needed to comply with state laws and are tedious to use. Concierge services, mostly available from accounting firms, can be very costly. The domestic worker organizations have not seen these issues as parts of their missions. A barrier their reports rarely acknowledge is that there is no method to report wages or to pay Social Security and Medicare contributions for undocumented workers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 25, 2016


Enhanced state labor standards for domestic workers, Brookline Beacon, as of August, 2016

Massachusetts Coalition for Domestic Workers (founded 2010), 197 Friend St., Boston, MA, 617-603-1540

National Domestic Workers Alliance (founded 2007), Chicago, IL, 872-216-3684

Saba Waheed, Lucero Herrera, Reyna Orellana, Blake Valenta and Tia Koonse, Profile, practices and needs of California’s domestic work employers, UCLA Labor Center, May, 2016

Minimum wage laws in the states, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2016

Natalicia Tracy, Tim Sieber and Susan Moir, Invisible no more: domestic workers organizing in Massachusetts and beyond, ScholarWorks, University of Massachusetts Boston, October, 2014

Benjamin Collins, Right to work laws: legislative background and empirical research, Congressional Research Service, January 6, 2014

Minimum wage, overtime protections extended to direct care workers by Labor Department, U.S. Department of Labor, December 17, 2013

Rachel Homer, What’s happening with domestic workers’ rights?, On Labor (Cambridge, MA), November 6, 2013

Gerald Mayer, Benjamin Collins and David H. Bradley, The Fair Labor Standards Act: an overview, Congressional Research Service, June 4, 2013

Karen Michael, Labor law: the Supreme Court and the Fair Labor Standards Act, Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, April 28, 2013

Nik Theodore, Beth Gutelius and Linda Burnham, Home truths: domestic workers in California, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2013

Linda Burnham and Nik Theodore, Home economics: the invisible and unregulated world of domestic work, National Domestic Workers Alliance (New York, NY), 2012

History of changes to the minimum wage law, Wage and Hour Division, U.S. Department of Labor, 2007

Howard D. Samuel, Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 123(12):32-37, 2000

Dora L. Costa, Hours of work and the Fair Labor Standards Act: a study of retail and wholesale trade, 1938-1950, National Bureau of Economic Research, Industrial and Labor Relations Review 53(4):648-664, 2000

Jonathan Grossman, Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938: maximum struggle for a minimum wage, U.S. Department of Labor, 1978

Peyton Elder, The 1974 amendments to the federal minimum wage law, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review 97(7):33-37, 1974

Leon H. Wallace, The Fair Labor Standards Act, Indiana Law Journal 22(2):113-149, 1947

Opp Cotton Mills, Inc. v. Administrator, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 126, 1941

United States v. Darby, U.S. Supreme Court, 312 U.S. 100, 1941

U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act, in original form as Public Law 75-718, 1938

Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States, U.S. Supreme Court, 295 U.S. 495, 1935

New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates

If operators of interstate natural gas pipelines succeed in getting permits for expansions in Massachusetts, they will have to raise their own funds to install new lines. On Wednesday, August 17, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled out schemes that would have subsidized new gas pipelines from Massachusetts electricity bills.

Utility companies Eversource and National Grid had proposed to acquire interests in new gas pipelines and load costs upfront onto electricity rates. The Baker administration and its Energy secretary, Matthew Beaton, had supported the schemes–similar in effect to construction-work-in-progress tariffs used to force electricity customers in Georgia and South Carolina to pay for new nuclear power-plants while they are being built.

Corrupt schemes: Attorney General Maura Healey and state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D, Amherst), the senate president, opposed the corrupt schemes. They were joined by the Conservation Law Foundation in responding to a lawsuit filed by interests in natural gas import terminals. Imports of liquefied natural gas, while more expensive than domestic pipeline gas, have helped to reduce and prevent wintertime price spikes. As documented in 2015 by Analysis Group of Boston, that approach costs less overall than installing new interstate gas pipelines.

In what looks to be his last opinion, Justice Robert Cordy wrote for a unanimous court, finding that the Baker administration’s regulation, allowing pipeline construction tariffs, was “invalid in light of the statutory language and purpose” of the Electricity Restructuring Act. [Chapter 164 of the Acts of 1997] Specifically, Justice Cordy wrote, the Baker administration’s regulation “would undermine the main objectives of the act and re-expose ratepayers to the types of financial risks from which the legislature sought to protect them.”

It was a conclusive decision, putting paid to the corrupt schemes engineered by the pipeline companies and to the corrupt regulations adopted by their Republican sweethearts in state government.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 17, 2016


ENGIE Gas & LNG LLC v. Department of Public Utilities, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case Nos. SJC-12051 and SJC-12052, August 17, 2016

Jon Chesto, SJC rejects Baker’s plan to impose fee for gas pipelines, Boston Globe, August 17, 2016

Naureen Malik, The U.S. has more gas than it needs and Boston’s importing, Bloomberg News, April 13, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Craig Bolon, Little need for new gas pipelines, Brookline Beacon, July 20, 2016

Will New England revive nuclear power?

Many New England people became enthusiasts for nuclear power after World War II. Nuclear research reactors, nuclear equipment and service firms and one small nuclear power-plant emerged. Yankee Rowe, located in the Berkshire foothills of Massachusetts–the second commercial plant in the U.S.–closed in 1992. As of 2007 it had been disassembled and taken away, its buildings had been razed and the grounds had been cleared.

Yankee Rowe site in 1986 and 2006

YankeeRoweSite2006
Source: Vermont Public Service Board

All that is left now at the former Yankee Rowe site are 16 steel and concrete casks, weighing more than 100 tons each and guarded at all times, holding spent but highly radioactive nuclear fuel. One small research reactor remains–at M.I.T. in Cambridge, just southwest of Massachusetts Ave. between Vassar and Albany Sts. beside historic tracks of the former Grand Junction Railroad, now operated by the MBTA. Little known to the public, the M.I.T. reactor long ran on weapons-grade enriched uranium. Students and staff called the former Warner Calvary’s, next to the service entrance, the “nuclear diner”–zapped while you ate, no extra charge.

M.I.T. nuclear reactor, Cambridge, MA

Looking southeast toward Metropolitan Storage

MitResearchReactor2012
Source: Cambridge City Council, 2012

Nuclear eclipse: With closure of Vermont Yankee in Vernon, at the end of 2014, New England was left with four operating nuclear-power units. One of those four, the unit at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, MA, is now scheduled to close on May 31, 2019.

New England nuclear-power units

167 MW Yankee Rowe Rowe, MA opened 1963 closed 1992
641 MW Millstone 1 Waterford, CT opened 1970 closed 1985
860 MW Maine Yankee Wiscasset, ME opened 1972 closed 1996
620 MW Vermont Yankee Vernon, VT opened 1972 closed 2014
680 MW Pilgrim Plymouth, MA opened 1972 to close 2019
1130 MW Seabrook 2 Portsmouth, NH begun 1976 abandoned 1988
882 MW Millstone 2 Waterford, CT opened 1975
1155 MW Millstone 3 Waterford, CT opened 1986
1194 MW Seabrook 1 Portsmouth, NH opened 1990

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

From peak nuclear generating capacity of 5.6 GW in mid-1991, New England will be left with 3.2 GW in mid-2019, a decrease of 42 percent over 28 years–with six of nine commercial nuclear-power units out-of-service. (Unit 2 at Seabrook was abandoned during construction and never operated.) Little of those losses can be made up from wind or solar sources, since they will stop when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. Instead, the deficits are mostly being filled from newer combined-cycle power-plants fired by natural gas. The latest one, being built by Footprint Power at the site of the former coal-fired Salem Station, has about the capacity of the Pilgrim nuclear plant, soon to close.

Survivors: Although not well known to most of the public, after mid-2019 New England will no longer have any operating nuclear units with relatively hazardous Mark 1 “boiling water” containment designs–like those that exploded in March, 2011, at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim plants used those designs. The three nuclear units to remain in New England used “pressurized water” designs, with more stable characteristics. Unit 2 at Millstone, with two secondary loops, will then become the region’s least stable. It was developed by Combustion Engineering–a high flyer of the 1960s that built 15 of the 119 completed U.S. utility-scale nuclear-power units, wound down operations during the 1980s and was sold in 1990.

Millstone Unit 3 and Seabrook Unit 1 both use Westinghouse 4-loop “pressurized water” designs. They were both completed after the major upgrades to safety requirements that followed the Three Mile island nuclear meltdown in 1979, under supervision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Three Mile island has “pressurized water” units designed by Babcock & Wilcox, with only two secondary loops. Nevertheless, margins of stability were enough that the meltdown of Unit 2 was almost entirely contained. In contrast, Mark 1 “boiling water” containment designs had been strongly criticized during the 1960s for inadequate margins, but an industry-dominated Atomic Energy Commission, which was disbanded in 1975, had failed to intervene.

Survival of current nuclear power-plants is hardly guaranteed. Heat exchangers, which industry calls “steam generator loops,” are major sources of added stability for “pressurized water” designs. They are also among the worst sources of failures. The reason that Maine Yankee was shut down after only 24 years service was impending failures of those devices. More recently, operators of the San Onofre plant in California squandered nearly a billion dollars on steam-generator replacements–botching the jobs, getting only about another year of service and starting disputes and chicanery after the San Onofre shutdown that could take a decade to resolve.

New thinking: In the late 1990s, manufacturers of nuclear-power equipment, encouraged by academics at M.I.T. and other schools of engineering, began to work up plans for a so-called “third generation” of nuclear power-plants. It was, perhaps timely, an era of “millennial thinking.” The initial goals, in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster, were to make nuclear power far safer. Rather soon, however, came notions that nuclear power-plants might also be much cheaper than they had been for some 20 years. The two concerns reflected widely perceived problems of the industry.

In 1954, Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, spoke at the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting, saying nuclear power would become “too cheap to meter.” He was soon countered by industry spokespersons, but the phrase stuck in memory, and notions that nuclear power should be low in cost became widespread expectations. If such notions ever had merit, they were demolished by long delays and steep cost increases to meet U.S. safety requirements added after the Three Mile Island meltdown. During the 1980s, the Vogtle plant in Georgia became a poster child for schedule and budget overruns. Its two units came on line in 1987 and 1989, more than 10 years late and at over 25 times the cost budgeted in 1971.

Alvin Weinberg, a former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory–who had enthusiastically endorsed the “too cheap to meter” claim of the 1950s–re-emerged years later to make a claim for everlasting equipment. “If nuclear reactors receive normal maintenance,” he wrote, “they will never wear out, and this will profoundly affect the economic performance of the reactors.” Dr. Weinberg was not an engineer; he had never worked in industry. Still, trained as a physicist, he should have known better. He dismissed out-of-hand embrittlement and build-up of radioactivity, and he likely did not even think about structures and control systems. Such a cavalier approach reflected “millennial thinking” that remained common in public views for about a decade.

Rubber meets road, gives way: The U.S. economic recovery from 2002 through 2007 began to stimulate utility interest. During the Walker Bush administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed a one-step process for utilities, to expedite approval of nuclear plants using standard designs. Four contenders vied for design approval: Westinghouse Nuclear, by then a division of Toshiba in Japan, General Electric Nuclear, by then a division of Hitachi in Japan, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan and Areva, the French nuclear conglomerate. No application came from Rosatom in Russia or Kepco in Korea, despite both announcing plans. Toward the end of 2007, Nuclear Street, a trade publication, reported 34 letters of intent to build new U.S. nuclear-power units. Of the 28 naming a design, 14 proposed to use the AP-1000 from Westinghouse.

By the late 1990s, academics and consultants were enjoying great sport as market speculators, projecting ever lower costs based on supposed economies of scale. In order to exhibit the lowest possible amounts, they touted so-called “overnight” costs–omitting interest, infrastructure, land and site preparation. “Overnight” estimates ranged as low as about $1 a watt, although some plants from the 1980s had cost around $4 a watt, before factoring inflation. After glory days of a so-called “nuclear renaissance”–around 1997 through 2007–both everyday and episodic factors intervened. The rubber was to meet the road when the equipment builders proposed prices and their potential utility customers had to figure out whether they could afford the tabs.

Starting in 2008, along with a sharp recession, the tabs came in high: at least $4 a watt, maybe more. The outgoing Walker Bush administration assembled $18.5 billion in a loan-guarantee program, likely supporting less than 5 GW of capacity and perhaps four nuclear-power units. Soon the incoming Obama administration faced huge economic stress to reverse the Walker Bush recession, the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was eager to identify fast-growth opportunities, and it offered nothing more toward slow-growth nuclear power. Then came the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in March, 2011, and financial losses threatened by the January, 2012, shutdowns of both San Onofre units near San Diego. Those episodes capped off a would-be “nuclear renaissance.” U.S. support for investments in nuclear power collapsed.

Active applications to build third-generation nuclear-power units in the U.S. dropped rapidly. In states with deregulated electricity markets, none survive. Utilities operating as unregulated merchant power generators proved unwilling to accept financial risks at prices being proposed–with or without loan guarantees. Only utilities continuing to function as government-backed monopolies maintained interest. Of 34 proposed new nuclear-power units, as named in 2007, only four units are now active–all using the Westinghouse AP-1000 design. Two are under construction at the Summer plant in South Carolina, and two are at the Vogtle plant in Georgia–the 1980s poster child for cost overruns. These projects took the federal loan guarantees, emptying the pot.

Propping up survivors: Odd as it might sound, Andrew Cuomo (D, New Castle), the New York governor opposed to the Indian Point nuclear power-plant in Buchanan, NY, has arranged subsidies funded by electricity customers to prop up four other nuclear-power units in the state. Estimated only a few months ago at perhaps $200 million over about ten years, the subsidies are now widely reported as likely to cost $8 billion or more. Within days Exelon, which already owned three of the units, announced a plan to buy the fourth from Entergy. Exelon is able to economize by sharing personnel, now the main expense of running nuclear plants fully depreciated years ago.

Operating New York nuclear-power units

610 MW Ginna Ontario, NY opened 1970
838 MW FitzPatrick Scriba, NY opened 1975
621 MW 9-Mile Point 1 Scriba, NY opened 1974
1140 MW 9-Mile Point 2 Scriba, NY opened 1987
1032 MW Indian Point 2 Buchanan, NY opened 1974
1051 MW Indian Point 3 Buchanan, NY opened 1976

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

FitzPatrick and 9-Mile Point 1 used the Mark 1 “boiling water” containment design, the same as Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi units in Japan. If the two plants in New England deserved to be shuttered, then so do FitzPatrick and 9-Mile Point 1. However, unlike the many, longstanding critics of nuclear power in southern Vermont and eastern Massachusetts, in upstate New York very few people are demanding action on hazards their region faces. There are no signs that the Cuomo administration has genuine concerns about such hazards either, aside from personally and politically motivated attention to the Indian Point plant, located less than 15 miles from the governor’s home.

News from New York government sources has been the usual, opaque OCA blarney–officials covering arses–but obviously money spoke. A tiny fraction of $8 billion could fund a huge legacy of political campaigns. However, despite long entrenched corruption, Illinois governments rebuffed Exelon solicitations this year. Mr. Cuomo invoked environmental saviors to buttress his cause–notably James Hansen, a Columbia professor. Joined by three less well known partners, Dr. Hansen occupied a New York Times pulpit in November, 2013, to present a prayer for nuclear power. It was, the four then claimed, “the only viable path forward on climate change.”

Others disagreed. As the late Michael Mariotte of Nuclear Information and Research Service wrote, “No environmental organization took the bait. Instead, NRDC, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club decry nuclear power….” According to Morningstar, in an investment newsletter issued a week after the Hansen prayer, “Enormous costs, political and popular opposition, and regulatory uncertainty” render new reactors infeasible [as recounted in Forbes]. Low costs for nuclear power occurred only before nuclear disasters of the 1970s and 1980s, leading to stringent and costly safety regulations, and under repressive oligarchies, ignoring lessons from the disasters. Outside command economies of Russia, China and South Korea, only two of several “third generation” nuclear designs are being implemented: the AP-1000 in the U.S. and the EPR in Europe.

Practical developments: The European [or "evolutionary"] pressurized reactor (EPR), designed by Areva in France, took a partly conventional approach to reliability: increasing steam generator “loops” for a “pressurized water” reactor to four instead of two or three. That was adapted from a proven design: the Westinghouse 4-loop “pressurized water” units built in the U.S. during the 1980s. The EPR specifications have been disrupted by several surges of changes, leaving the first unit in Olkiluoto, Finland, more than ten years late, with at least a factor of three in cost overrun. Last year, the government of Finland cancelled another EPR unit, but the former Cameron and Osborne regime in Britain signed up for two EPR units at Hinkley Point in Somerset, on the Bristol Channel. Recently the successor British regime, headed by Theresa May, put those plans on hold, questioning Chinese involvement in the project.

The AP-1000, designed by Westinghouse in the U.S. and by Toshiba in Japan, mainly took a structural approach to reliability: providing a very large volume of passive cooling to manage a thermal spike. While the EPR design tends to increase complexity, working against reliability, the AP-1000 design tends to reduce complexity, at least in some respects. Four units are under construction in the U.S. as noted before, and four are being built in China at Sanmen and Haiyang. China has also licensed the technology, and it has developed a much-cheapened system, the CPR-1000, omitting most of the major improvements in safety and reliability. AP-1000 units in China use a cheapened design of that type, omitting protection against aircraft impacts required in the U.S.

All AP-1000 projects are running years behind schedules. Those in the U.S. suffer from major cost overruns, but there is no reliable information from China, since anyone providing it would probably be jailed or killed. Last year Chicago Bridge & Iron, one major contractor for the U.S. projects, sold out to Westinghouse, the other major contractor, creating an effective U.S. monopoly in nuclear power-plant construction. U.S. utility sponsors are protected by CWIP regulations–construction work in progress–enacted by politically captive state governments in Georgia and South Carolina and allowing the utilities to charge customers increased rates before the plants are operating.

New England opportunities: So far, there are few signs that New England will respond to what parts of the nuclear-power industry might cast as opportunities. New England nuclear generation capacity has been falling for about a quarter century. Once Pilgrim in Plymouth, MA, closes in 2019, only New Hampshire and Connecticut will have nuclear power-plants operating. No utility is likely to propose any new nuclear facility for the region until the “third generation” units under construction in Georgia and South Carolina have been operating for quite a few years and unless their safety and economic performance has lived up to claims.

Dominion Power, the operator of Millstone in Waterford, CT, since 2000, tried to put a squeeze on Connecticut government, similar to what Exelon has pulled off in New York. They frightened the state senate into passing a subsidy bill in April, 2016, but after that their momentum stalled. Dannel Malloy (D, Stamford), the state’s governor, could prove as susceptible as Andrew Cuomo became in New York. Last March, Malloy reportedly met privately with Dominion lobbyists and executives. Typical shell-game tactics are showing up. One news report quotes a state senator, Paul Doyle (D, Wethersfield), saying, “It’s not a subsidy.” Maybe, but it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck….

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 10, 2016


Karen DeWitt, Nuclear part of New York’s energy future, WRVO (Oswego, NY), August 10, 2016

Leonard Hyman and William Tilles, New York nuclear plants deemed a ‘public necessity’, Oil Price (London, UK), August 6, 2016

Tim Knauss, New York board approves ratepayer subsidy to save upstate nukes, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, August 1, 2016

Kate Holton and William James, UK’s May worried by China investment, intervened to delay Hinkley, Reuters (UK), July 30, 2016

Vivian Yee, Nuclear subsidies are key part of New York’s clean-energy plan, New York Times, July 21, 2016

John O’Connor, Exelon to close two nuclear plants in Illinois, still seeking subsidies, Associated Press, June 2, 2016

Michael Steinberg, Nuclear shutdown ripped off California ratepayers, San Diego Free Press, June 2, 2016

Walter C. Jones, Who will pay for Vogtle construction costs?, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, May 1, 2016

Mark Pazniokas, Connecticut senate passes bill to stabilize revenues in nuclear industry, Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), April 30, 2016

Carol Matlack, French plans for a nuclear plant begin to look like a bad deal for Britain, Bloomberg News, April 29, 2016

David Abel and John R. Ellement, Closing date set for Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Boston Globe, April 14, 2016

Steve Daniels, Exelon’s Crane beats the drum again for nuke subsidies, Chicago Business, February 3, 2016

Jeff McDonald, It’s not just the steam generators that failed, San Diego Tribune, January 30, 2016

Linda A. DeStefano, Oswego County leaders short-sighted in backing nuclear energy, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, December 23, 2015

Aaron Larson, CB&I out, Fluor in at Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear power plant construction projects, Power Magazine, October 28, 2015

John Lichfield, UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project, Independent (London, UK), April 17, 2015

List of power reactor units, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015

Jack Newsham, Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shutdown complete, Boston Globe, December 29, 2014

Rinaldo Brutoco, Nuclear power: totally unqualified to combat climate change, Safe Energy Project (Santa Barbara, CA), September 14, 2014

Jusen Asa, et al., Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change mitigation, Tohoku University (Japan), January 31, 2014

Michael Mariotte, Letter by Hansen et al. misses the mark on nuclear power and renewables, Nuclear Information and Research Service, November, 2013

Jeff McMahon, Morningstar calls nuclear renaissance fiction and fantasy, Forbes, November 10, 2013

Andrew C. Revkin, James Hansen, et al., To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power, New York Times, November 3, 2013

Michael R. Blood, Associated Press, Federal regulators say design led to nuclear plant problems, Boston Globe, June 18, 2012

John S. Quarterman, Original Plant Vogtle cost overruns, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (Valdosta, GA), 2012

David E. Moncton, MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, Cambridge (MA) City Council, 2012

Fred Contrada, Casks holding spent fuel assemblies all that’s left of Yankee Rowe, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 17, 2011

Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press, History of bungles and cover-ups in Japan’s nuclear industry, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), March 17, 2011

Nuclear Reactor Characteristics and Operational History, Nuclear Reactor Operational Status Tables, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2011

Adriaan Buijs, Too cheap to meter?, Canadian Nuclear Society, 2009

Loan guarantee applications for nuclear power plant construction, U.S. Department of Energy, 2008

David Schlissel and Bruce Biewald, Nuclear power plant construction cost, Synapse Energy Economics, 2008

Proposed new nuclear power plants, Nuclear Street, 2007

Tyson Slocum, The failure of electricity deregulation, Public Citizen, 2007

Yankee Rowe site closure plan, Rev. 4, Vermont Public Service Board, 2006

Alvin M. Weinberg, New life for nuclear power, Issues in Science and Technology 19(4), online, Summer 2003

John Deutch, Ernest J. Moniz, et al., The future of nuclear power, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003

Brandon Haddock, Morris News Service, Nuclear power plant not drawing same attention as before, Athens (GA) Banner-Herald, May 18, 1999

Igor Kudrik, Russian nuclear power for the next century (in English), Bellona Foundation (Norway), 1998

Jim Riccio and Michael Grynberg, NRC’s efforts to renew nuclear reactor licenses, Public Citizen, 1995

Dan Adams, Conversion of MIT reactor to safer fuel pushed to 2027, Boston Globe, September 2, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Trash metering: cheaper by the barrel

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen started at 6:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main business of the evening finally began an hour and a quarter later: a public hearing on trash metering, repeatedly postponed for more than a year.

Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, seemed to suggest he had played some role in the plans, saying his administration was “still early in the process.” While that might be, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had described the elements at a public meeting two years earlier: standard-sized trash carts replacing a wobbly approach that charges every participating household the same fee for unlimited refuse collection and disposal.

The gist of the new plan is that households can sign up for trash carts of different sizes and pay annual fees for weekly collection and disposal. They can also buy standard plastic bags, as many as they need, for either regular or overflow refuse collection. Bags are more costly to handle, so proposed fees per pound of refuse put out in bags are higher than fees for using standard trash carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not give a starting date for trash metering, saying it was still at least a year away.

The most recent twists on the plan were on display at the hearing: four sizes of standard trash carts with capacities rated at 18, 35, 65 and 95 gallons–all to be supplied by the town. Starting about five years ago, Brookline has been supplying bright blue plastic carts for recycling. They were originally all 65-gallon capacity. More recently, 35-gallon and 95-gallon capacity has been available on request. The 18-gallon cart is a new member of the line. It has about the same girth as the 35-gallon cart but is not as tall.

Refuse service fees, cheaper by the barrel: According to Mr. Pappastergion, several other communities in eastern Massachusets now operate refuse and recycling collections in similar ways. However, the rubber meets the road in pricing. The fees now proposed make refuse services much cheaper by the barrel, rather than by the bag.

type refuse, lb fee–weeks annual lb annual fee fee per lb
big bag 25 $3–1 1300 $156 $0.120
18-gal 24 $130–52 1248 $130 $0.105
35-gal 48 $180–52 2496 $180 $0.072
65-gal 87 $260–52 4524 $260 $0.057
95-gal 125 $340–52 6500 $340 $0.052

Proposed fees are also much higher for the smaller trash carts: about twice as much per pound for the 18-gallon carts as compared with the 95-gallon carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not provide the comparisons that the Beacon shows, above, and he did not offer any explanation of pricing. Multifamily buildings with space for the larger carts will pay much less for refuse services than buildings that lack enough space. A typical 3-family building would pay less yet get a bigger service quantity by using 65-gallon rather than 35-gallon trash carts:

size number carts annual fee annual lb
35-gal 3 $540 7488
65-gal 2 $520 9048

Public comments: Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member who chairs the Advisory Committee, urged that Brookline “maintain flexibility” and consider individual circumstances. Kenneth Goldstein, who stepped off the Board of Selectmen a year ago, recounted his experience using a single, 35-gallon trash cart for his family of four. They get along with it, he said, “It works.”

Nomi Burstein of Garrison Road told a different story. Space in her neighborhood is very limited, she said, not enough even for current recycling carts: “Last year we stopped recycling during the winter.” Susan Granoff of Vernon Street, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, agreed. “Lack of storage space,” she said, “is a big problem.” Anne McNulty of Claflin Road said her street is “littered with blue.” Brookline recycling carts are being kept in front of buildings for lack of space to store them elsewhere.

Ms. McNulty’s neighbor Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member, said Claflin Road neighbors will hold an exhibit on their street next Sunday afternoon, May 22, showing how difficult a situation the town-supplied carts are creating for their urban environment. Mr. Friedman sponsored Article 17 at the annual town meeting that starts Tuesday, May 24. It proposes a resolution seeking an “exception system” where use of trash carts would be “impractical.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 18, 2016


Warrant report for the 2016 annual town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, May 10, 2016

Department of Public Works, Hybrid pay-as-you-throw (trash metering) proposal, Town of Brookline, MA, May 17, 2016

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Software magic: epic bungling of healthcare.gov

In October, 2013, New York Times reporters Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen first reported gross conflicts and disorganization among contractors developing the major U.S. health-care Web site, healthcare.gov, and their supervisors who were federal government employees. While the Times described problems soon after a crisis became public, its reporters did not explain how the problems developed.

Three weeks later, Washington Post reporters Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin traced them to blunders committed by lawyers who were serving as government officials but had no significant operations backgrounds, technical competence or business experience–their authority underwritten directly by Pres. Obama.

Protracted failures of the U.S. healthcare.gov Web site became a classic case of the “software runaway,” memorialized about 20 years ago in the like-named book by Robert L. Glass. Recently, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided a legal-eye view of this epic disaster.

Within the industry, a disease had been recognized by the late 1960s, with crashes of early airline reservation systems as the major, public danger signs. After a few years, remedies were known, and software professionals were addressing issues when clients and employers allowed them the time and responsibility to do that. The Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University gradually created a new profession: “software architect.”

However, the lure of “coding” as a source of instant magic remained amazingly seductive and has continued to undermine efforts. Project failures remain common, although few become as dramatic as the one that almost capsized the federal Affordable Health Care program. The root causes are usually the same: muddlers in charge of projects–lacking strong skills and strong character. Muddlers can be pleasant to work with and are often successful in some roles. Developing new software is not one of those, nor is designing a new bridge.

Assigning blame: As Daniel Levinson, inspector general for Health and Human Services, wrote, core elements in the recent disaster were:
Poor leadership: “HealthCare.gov lacked clear project leadership to give direction and unity of purpose, responsiveness in execution and a comprehensive view of progress.”
Poor management: “[The office] mismanaged the key…development contract, with frequent changes, problematic technological decisions and limited oversight of contractor performance.”

The software, coordinating transactions between millions of users and hundreds of back-office systems, would have been a nightmare on a sunny day. As usual, the foul-ups began at the beginning: writing requirements. The approach in nearly all durable efforts has been to start modestly and build out in steps. Disregarding readily found advice, spun from a long history of painful failures, government nitwits bought into the aptly named “big bang” approach: launch everything–all at once–and make it slick and shiny, and thus very complicated.

Chief Muddler at Health and Human Services was Marilyn Tavenner, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services–not a “dear, sweet woman” but by training a nurse and street-wise organizer. Trying to direct technology, she was out of her depth. She lacked the sense to find and hire someone who could do the job.

While manufacturing a disaster, she had plenty of help from White House nitwits. They had only dreams of sharing limelight in a splendid performance. They had no industry backgrounds and no role in making anything actually work. Up against those would-be luminaries, Ms. Tavenner lacked the character to say “No,” and she lacked the skills to see she was merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Remedies and wreckers: Mr. Levinson, the inspector general, seems to think remedies are obvious. He calls for “clear leadership.” However, his approach of “project leaders” would not help when designated leaders were also nitwits or muddlers. He is on sounder ground seeking “factors of organizational culture” that might help. However, as a career bureaucrat and a lawyer, Mr. Levinson does not seem to understand just what those factors might be or how to get them.

No major news source has yet described how a senior Administration official behind the blunders, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle–former director of the Office of Health Reform at the White House and from 2011 to 2013 Pres. Obama’s deputy chief of staff for policy–was allowed to quit the government before the health-care reform program began operating.

An ambitious person, regarded as a health-care policy expert, Ms. DeParle had served in prominent positions in the federal government and the state government of Tennessee, where she spent much of her youth and graduated from college. Her most obvious blunder, failing to set and then freeze program requirements, allowed a stream of changes ordered when efforts were already gravely behind schedule.

By failing to name key perpetrators in the healthcare.gov collapse and failing to state plainly what they did wrong, Mr. Levinson, the inspector general, emulates ancient Tibetan lamas. He is spinning prayer-wheels. His report will be shelved and forgotten, as federal government lurches toward its next appointment with disaster.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 23, 2016


Daniel R. Levinson, U.S. HHS inspector general, CMMS management of the federal marketplace: case study, February, 2016

Amy Goldstein, HHS failed to heed many warnings that HealthCare.gov was in trouble, Washington Post, February 22, 2016

Robert Pear, Sharon LaFraniere and Ian Austen, From the start, signs of trouble in federal project, New York Times, October 13, 2013

Sharon LaFraniere, Ian Austen and Robert Pear, Specialists see weeks of work ahead on federal health-care exchange, New York Times, October 21, 2013

Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, HealthCare.gov: How political fear was pitted against technical needs, Washington Post, November 2, 2013

Robert L. Glass, Software Runaways: Monumental Software Disasters, Prentice Hall, 1997

Diversity Commission: staying the course

A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, February 17, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. Once again the agenda included review of the commission’s recent statement on institutional racism in the Brookline work force. That statement had been read by Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, at a hearing–organized as more than two hours of “public comment”–held by the Board of Selectmen on January 5.

The commission meeting attracted some notice, with Ellen Ishkanian reporting for the Boston Globe. Aside from occasional visits to the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, since the 1970s there has rarely been a Globe reporter at a town board or commission meeting. Bernard Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Brookline Board of Selectmen and the board’s delegate to the commission, stayed for the full duration of this meeting. At the previous meeting, he left after making a brief statement.

Disputes and lawsuits: Disputes over racism in Brookline’s work force became stronger after a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Brookline firefighter Gerald Alston in December, 2015. Mr. Alston had truncated a previous state lawsuit and a state civil rights complaint that were begun in hopes, so far unrealized, of settling his charges about racial mistreatment.

Racist practices had been tacit in Brookline since at least the Reconstruction era, following the Civil War. They became officially recognized concerns with creation of the former Human Relations Commission at the 1970 annual town meeting. Once tolerated practices became explicitly illegal after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [Public law 88-352], sponsored by former President Kennedy–a Brookline native–but enacted after Mr. Kennedy’s assassination and during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

While some media seem to be making sport from Brookline’s struggles–as though novel or surprising–that could be because a substantially upper-income community has been providing public exposure of situations similar to ones simmering–and sometimes boiling–in less wealthy places. Last year 12 New York City police officers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging racial targeting and arrest quotas.

According to Saki Knafo, writing in the New York Times, “The lawsuit claims that commanders now use euphemisms…pressuring officers to ‘be more proactive’ or to ‘get more activity’ instead of explicitly ordering them to bring in, say, one arrest and 10 tickets by the end of the month.” In Brookline, the town administrator was quoted, saying, “…use of sick leave and other accrued leave is carefully regulated,” after pay of a protesting black police officer had been docked.

Institutional racism: On February 17, Alex Coleman, chair of Brookline’s diversity commission, began the meeting by recalling that consensus on the commission had been to “stand by the statement” made January 5 about institutional racism but “provide additional information.” He said the January statement was “one town body expressing its opinion to another one.” Dr. Coleman noted that the commission “did not have formalized fact-finding…we don’t have the authority to do that.”

When replacing Brookline’s former Human Relations / Youth Resources Commission with its current Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, authority to “secure the investigation of…complaints charging discrimination” was deliberately removed. A new “mission” statement was added, with an obvious effect of limiting the scope of the current commission. [previous and current Article 3.14 of Brookline general bylaws] Those changes were proposed by a committee that had been appointed by the Board of Selectmen, on which then and current board member Nancy Daly and current board member Bernard Greene served.

Commissioner Malcolm Cawthorne, an African-American Brookline native and Brookline High School history teacher, asked, “Are we going to have a statement tonight? I don’t agree we need to make a statement.” Commissioner Anthony Naro, a lawyer who works as a public defender, said, “The only benefit to a statement…is it can serve an olive branch.” Dr. Coleman recognized Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a lawyer, who also served on the committee that proposed the current commission bylaw.

Statements: Mr. Rosenthal presented a draft of an additional statement that he urged the commission to adopt. The intent, he said, was “to build bridges.” The January 5 statement, he claimed, contained “things that…were not factual findings but are being used that way…You won’t do well if you don’t have credibility in the whole community.” However, Mr. Rosenthal did not explain why, if he wanted the commission to conduct fact-finding investigations, he had opted to remove that authority when he was serving on the committee that proposed the current bylaw.

Mr. Greene took a hard line, as at the previous meeting, saying to commissioners, “You need to rescind the [January 5] statement…It’s not just destructive but wrong and incoherent…an embarrassment…starting out with a poke in the eye….” Like Mr. Rosenthal, Mr. Greene did not explain why, if he wanted the commission to conduct fact-finding investigations, he had opted to remove that authority when he was serving on the committee that proposed the current bylaw.

Mr. Naro responded, saying, “The commission always viewed [the January 5 statement] and presented it as an opinion…Attorneys might have tried to morph it into something else.” He described watching the January 5 hearing with his family, saying, “By the time Alex made his statement, my family were flabbergasted at what we heard…The town’s reputation was already in great disrepair…If half the [January 5] allegations were true, it’s disturbing…listening that night to all those people get up.”

Commissioner Enid Shapiro agreed, saying, “There is racism…It’s not hidden away some place…We need to pay attention to this. It’s time for us…[to be] coming forward with a description of what we might do.” Her reaction to the arguments from Mr. Rosenthal and Mr. Greene was firm. She said, “We need to move on from this discussion…We’re just becoming angrier…[We should] move beyond this discussion.”

Mr. Cawthorne concurred. “As a black man who chooses to live in the town,” he said, “being profiled…I ran into racism [growing up] at Devotion [School]…We stand by our statement, our statement that took at most one minute compared to the 1-3/4 hours before it…You walk into the shoes that were there before me.” After more discussion involving all the commissioners who were present, Ms. Shapiro and Mr. Cawthorne moved to table further review of the January 5 statement. The other commissioners agreed, in a unanimous vote.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 19, 2016


Saki Knafo, A black police officer’s fight against the New York City police department, New York Times, February 21, 2016

Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline officials spar over ‘institutional racism’ claim, Boston Globe, February 18, 2016

Jenna Fisher, Crowd rallies at Brookline Town Hall to support officers alleging racist treatment, (Brockton, MA) Enterprise, January 12, 2016

Jenna Fisher, Brookline selectmen flee public comment on alleged racism, (Quincy, MA) Patriot Ledger, December 22, 2015

Benjamin Weiser, Class-action lawsuit, blaming police quotas, takes on criminal summonses, New York Times, May 18, 2015

Jackson Marciana, Police abuse cases forced New York City to pay $428 million in false arrest and civil rights settlements, Countercurrent News, October 19, 2014

Wesley Lowery, Only 24 percent of population, blacks in Boston make up 63 percent of stop and frisk encounters, Washington Post, October 8, 2014

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Diversity Commission: messengers and victims, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2016

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment, Brookline Beacon, January 27, 2016

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Advisory Committee: neighborhoods, snow, human relations, Brookline Beacon, April 30, 2014

Craig Bolon, Human relations: more than advice?, Brookline Beacon, April 26, 2014

Human Relations Youth Resources Commission: coping with changes, Brookline Beacon, April 24, 2014

Diversity Commission: messengers and victims

A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, January 27, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. The agenda included review of the commission’s recent statement on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, which was read by Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, at a public hearing held by the Board of Selectmen on January 5.

Town government, according to the commission statement, has a “culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.” The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture.”

Attacking messengers: The commission’s January 27 meeting began with a statement from Bernard Greene, who is the delegate from the Board of Selectmen. Mr. Greene said his board was “actively taking steps to determine the facts” about complaints of racial mistreatment. However, he claimed the commission’s statement “has not been helpful to efforts to deal with these problems.”

Mr. Greene objected to what he called a “pathetic process that resulted in the statement.” He said he was “here to request that this commission rescind that statement and disavow it to the board and to the public.” After it does that, he said, “maybe the board can then begin to fulfill a useful role in addressing those problems.” Mr. Greene then left, saying he had “another meeting.”

Commission members had previously received a message from Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, sent by e-mail to Dr. Coleman on January 15. Ms. Murphy claimed the statement was “causing damage to the Town’s reputation as a community and employer.” She demanded “that the Commission take immediate steps to retract this statement and publicly acknowledge that it was not factually supported at the time it was made.”

Another objection to the commission’s statement circulated at the meeting, written by Neil Gordon, a Brookline constable and a Precinct 1 town meeting member. In it, Mr. Gordon said he could “find no meaningful substance behind the statement.” He asked “where the commission reviewed” employment practices of the Board of Selectmen and whether “the process by which the Board of Selectmen appointed Joslin Murphy as Town Counsel [was] tainted by a ‘culture of institutional racism’ that was allowed by that board.”

Blaming victims: Dr. Coleman described contacts with Ms. Murphy, recalling that “she was saying we had no facts supporting” the statement. However, it was delivered in the context of a two-hour public hearing including several personal descriptions of alleged racial mistreatment by Brookline employees. He recounted telling Ms. Murphy, “We look forward to working collaboratively.”

Ms. Murphy is one of several defendants in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of a group of plaintiffs that now includes eight Brookline employees and residents. According to allegations made in this lawsuit, “…the Town of Brookline appointed a white woman with multiple relationships within the workforce, Defendant Joslin Murphy, as the town’s chief legal counsel” in 2014. [Amended complaint, paragraph 132, p. 42]

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege blaming victims as a theme of racial mistreatment, writing, for example, that Brookline “allowed false rumors to spread that [a plaintiff's] complaint was meritless; it encouraged [other employees] to shun and ostracize him.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 8, p. 5] In another instance, an alleged breach of confidence identified a plaintiff “as the one who had protested the use of racist language and caused [the plaintiff] to be ostracized within the department.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 19, p. 9]

Responses: With 11 of 12 members participating, the commission did not seem inclined to a change of mind about its statement. Tony Naro stated, “The way Town Counsel has addressed the Commission through [Dr. Coleman] is disrespectful…Our statement was an opinion…[Others] should not threaten us, bully us and demand that we retract the statement.” Dr. Coleman commented, “We are not a fact-finding group.” Malcolm Cawthorne said, “We stand by our statement.”

Several commission members suggested ways that the commission might describe the background of its statement, but only Sandy Batchelder proposed to reopen and possibly revise the statement. No one proposed to rescind or retract it. Kelly Race said, “We should take a vote on whether we stand by our statement…It was the opinion of the commission.”

Speaking from the audience, Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member and co-chair of Brookline PAX, agreed, saying, “It was the unanimous opinion of a large commission after extended discussion.” Commission members decided not to compose an immediate reply to criticisms but instead to resume reviews at their next regular meeting in February.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 29, 2016


Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Letter to commission chair Alex Coleman, from Joslin Murphy, Brookline town counsel, January 15, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment, Brookline Beacon, January 27, 2016

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 26, started at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, read a statement about complaints of racial mistreatment lodged by staff of the fire and police departments. While expressing concerns over the issues, Mr. Wishinsky’s statement did not mention new efforts to address them.

Civil rights lawsuit: In a document filed at the federal court in Boston on the day of the meeting, the civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of firefighter Gerald Alston was joined by police officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun. Five other Brookline workers and residents–all alleging racial mistreatment–also joined: Cruz Sanabria, Juana Baez, Rogelio Rodas, Demetrius Oviedo and Deon Fincher.

The Brookline police officers rejected an offer of mediation made by Daniel O’Leary, Brookline’s chief of police, writing that “Racism cannot be mediated.” According to the officers, “The Chief and the Selectmen made promises regarding ‘zero tolerance’ for racism on the force, but we have experienced two separate occasions already where we reported these incidents and the perpetrators remain on the job, without consequence.”

The amended complaint in the lawsuit now names several Brookline staff alleged to have engaged in racial mistreatment, although it does not add them to the list of defendants. A central issue raised in the lawsuit remains an alleged “racist and unconstitutional policy” claimed to be “longstanding” in town government. Brookline’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission testified to the board on January 5 that the town government has “a culture of institutional racism” which “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

Some allegations can grow more chilling as one understands them better. For example, “Other police officers referred to [Mr. Zerai-Misgun] repeatedly as an FI, the police designation for a suspicious individual….” [Amended complaint, paragraph 18, p. 8] The abbreviation means a target of “field interrogation”–suggesting that an African-American may be targeted by race.

Complaints of racial mistreatment: An African-American member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission has described, at a public meeting of the commission on December 16, how he was personally targeted. The commission meeting was attended by Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who is African-American. The amended complaint also recounts other incidents involving Mr. Greene.

“Following the meeting, Selectman Bernard Greene met with the Police Chief and other town officials to formulate a plan to discredit the officers’ allegations. Selectman Greene later executed that plan by sending a confidential e-mail to selected town residents…Selectman Greene intended for his e-mail to be confidentially distributed among a select group of politically active residents as part of a broader whispering campaign to discredit and smear the officers and their supporters.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 31, p. 13, and paragraph 38, p. 15]

These allegations sound at least as serious as ones directed at Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, Mr. Greene has not been named as a defendant. The Brookline Department of Public Works and Office of Human Resources are implicated in other incidents described in the amended complaint.

“Deon Fincher was hired by the Town of Brookline as a laborer in 2009…Mr. Fincher was the only Black worker in [the] sanitation division…All the teams alternated between driving and collecting trash, except for one…On Mr. Fincher’s team, Mr. Fincher threw trash full time…In 2010, he injured his shoulder and required an operation…Mr. Fincher complained that the repetitive throwing motion was damaging his shoulder…The Town’s Human Resources director refused to assign Mr. Fincher another job…The head of the division…was hostile to Mr. Fincher when he attempted to assert his contractual rights. Mr. Johnson yelled at Mr. Fincher for requesting a union representative. White employees did not receive the same hostility.” [Amended complaint, paragraphs 87-96, pp. 29-31]

Sandra DeBow-Huang, director of the Office of Human Resources, has been named as a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit. Kevin Johnson, the highway, sanitation and fleet maintenance director in the Department of Public Works, has not been named as a defendant.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 27, 2016


Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, Racism cannot be mediated, statement to Brookline Board of Selectmen, January 26, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Memorandum in support of partial motion to dismiss, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 12, 2016

Complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed December 1, 2015

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015