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updated 3/17/2011 3:28:33 PM ET 2011-03-17T19:28:33

Guests: Lee Cowan, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Richard Wolffe, James Acton, Norman Kleiman, Jere Jenkins, Joan Walsh, Greg Mello, R. Seth Williams, Charles Blow

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Danger in the Pacific.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington. 

Leading off tonight: Fear and confusion.  Hard as it may be to imagine, Japan‘s nuclear crisis seems to be getting worse.  There are now concerns about all six reactors at the crippled Fukushima plant.  There‘s a lot of confusion about how badly the reactors are damaged, but the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here in the U.S. says radiation may be at lethal levels at this point and it may force workers to leave the area, keeping them from preventing a full nuclear meltdown.

Our own NBC correspondents have returned from the field with traces of radiation themselves on their clothing.  We‘ll have an update on the scene at the plant and how the country is coping with twin catastrophes.

Plus, those incredible workers at the plant itself, these brave, selfless technicians, are now taking risks few of us can imagine and fewer still could attempt.  The latest tonight on the faceless, nameless heroes who are risking all to save everyone else.

Also, it‘s been said truth is the first casualty of war.  Well, the same could be said about a nuclear crisis.  Can we trust what we hear from Japanese officials over there?  In fact, whom can we trust?

Here at home, for the first time we‘re hearing what really happens—on a different subject—what really happens when Catholic priests molest children in their diocese, in their parishes.  The Philadelphia DA has become the first prosecutor in this country to actually charge a church official for the abuse of children they were meant to protect.

And who‘s crying now about the Tea Party?  Fifty-four Republicans voted against a resolution to keep the government running the other day, meaning that John Boehner needs a lot of Democrats to keep spending bills passed.  Well, the bottom line, the grown-ups in the Republican Party are already getting weary of their new Tea Party friends.

We start with the ongoing crisis in Japan.  NBC News Lee Cowan is in Tokyo, covering the story.  Lee, give us an update.  Four to six reactors in trouble now?

LEE COWAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Right.  Exactly.  But there‘s a little bit of good news to report this morning, Chris, and that‘s that officials are now saying that they think that they‘ve managed to get a power line into the plant itself.  And if it works—they haven‘t started it yet, they haven‘t tried it yet, but if it works, they would be able to get power to some of those pumps and they would be able to start pumping the coolant again, in theory, and help that cool-down process get under way again, or at least get it into levels that would be a little bit safer.

Again, they don‘t know whether this is going to work.  They‘re going to try it in the next couple of hours, we‘re told.  But this is sort of one positive step.  And as we‘ve seen all week, Chris, there‘s one step forward and then two steps back, and that seems to be the case all week long.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s talk about that one step backward.  Are we near meltdown in any of the cases of these reactors?

COWAN:  They certainly won‘t say that they are.  You know, we‘ve seen these pictures where you see white steam coming out of the reactor itself.  We don‘t—that seems to indicate that there‘s been some sort of breach in the core itself.  They‘re not exactly sure if that‘s the case.  It did get to the point yesterday where the levels—the radiation levels were so high that those workers that you were talking about had to leave.  They came back and resumed their work, but every indication is that they could end up having to leave yet again, as you mentioned, if the radiation levels get too high.

So every time it seems like there‘s a bit of good news and they start to get something under control, something else happens and then they‘ve got to go work on that while something else is happening over here.  So just the amount of work—it‘s not just one reactor, as you say, it‘s all six of them that are experiencing some kind of problem at the moment, and just keeping track of it with the limited staff that they have, that—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

COWAN:  -- as you say, are willing to stay behind, is getting next to impossible.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going on with this rotation?  We‘re hearing from our own head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission here at home, as I said in the lead—Gregory Jaczko says that these are reaching near lethal levels of radiation.  How do they get people to go back in there on rotation, the 50 or 80 or whatever, the low number of people that are still working on site?

COWAN:  It‘s unreal.  I mean, this is obviously something that they signed on for to work at the plant, but the stories coming out of there are pretty remarkable.  There‘s one story that we heard where a gentleman is in his 60s.  He was only a couple of months away from retirement, and he volunteered to go back in and try to keep things under control, his wife saying, Go back in, do what you can to help ease everyone‘s concerns.

We were told a story today of a relative of one of the workers who‘s at that plant, doing the very same thing.  She had the opportunity to leave.  She turned it down.  She‘s a nurse.  She wanted to stay at the hospital nearby to help in any way she could.

And so you‘re starting to hear these kinds of stories—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COWAN:  -- all the time of the people that realize that this is the focus of attention, and that there really is only a handful of people that are already in there that are willing to do the work.

MATTHEWS:  What about the people in the country?  We‘re hearing all kinds of degrees (ph), of Americans 50 miles away, the tourists can obviously go 50 miles away, the people of Japan, the Japanese people told to go 19 miles away or else stay in your house.  And then, of course, our own colleague, Lester Holt.  This radiation danger—how is it permeating the country?

COWAN:  Well, it‘s different, depending on where you are in the country, Chris.  If you‘re up in the north, where so much of the damage is, they‘re not worrying too much about the nuclear reactors, to be honest.  They are worried about just getting through day by day, trying to find shelter.  The temperatures here have dropped considerably over the last few days.  It‘s been snowing like crazy up there.  They‘re more worried about where they‘re going to find food, where they‘re going to find water, where they‘re going to find shelter.  The rescuers, the volunteers that are up there still trying—hope against hope, trying to try to find anybody that might still be alive in the rubble.  They know what‘s going on with the nuclear reactor situation.

They‘re clearly not worried about it as much as they are down here in Tokyo, where it‘s a completely different scene.  They‘re watching the news.  They‘re listening to the radio.  They‘re trying to figure out exactly what is going on.  And I think, as we have sort of experienced all week long, part of the problem is not only the amount of information that‘s coming out, but what is coming out is very technical and it‘s very difficult to figure out exactly what it all means.

You talk about Lester and I—we drove down today from the north to Tokyo.  We got in a couple of hours ago.  When we arrived, we had to go through radiation testing, and there was trace amounts on the bottom of our shoes, on the bottom of our tripod, anything that touched the ground.  Part of the reason that was, we‘re told, is that because it was snowing so much today, the snow traps whatever is in the air and brings it down to the ground, traps it on the ground.  But if you‘re walking around in the snow, you‘re putting your tripod down in the snow, whatnot, that‘s where the contamination comes from.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COWAN:  It‘s minuscule amounts, we‘re told.  It‘s nothing that‘s life-threatening.  But it is there.  And whenever somebody tells you that your radiation levels are a little higher than they should be, that‘s certainly cause for concern.

MATTHEWS:  Is that concern stopping the rescue effort?  We got a report today back here in the United States that the people normally would be rushing to the scene of the tsunami to try to help people—as you said a minute ago, who are first responders trying to help people just come back alive, basically, after this incredible tsunami, 30 to 40 feet of water—normally, you‘d have a lot of internationals in there by now.  Is the fear of radiation contamination keeping them out?

COWAN:  It‘s hard to say.  I think—you know, we‘ve had heard that now even the U.S. military is told to stay at least 50 miles away from Fukushima itself if they‘re doing any of the flyovers.  That probably won‘t affect any of the rescue efforts up north because they‘re far enough away.

We today saw, as we were driving back towards Tokyo, the road that was heading in the opposite direction, to go up to the hardest-hit areas, where the tsunami and the quake hit—all we saw were local fire trucks and rescue crews.  We didn‘t see military from other countries.  We didn‘t see any sort of rescue efforts from other countries on the road.

But you know, the rescuers from Los Angeles, the rescuers from Fairfax, Virginia, that have flown in—there are people from New Zealand, who just dealt with their own quake there, who have flown in to help.  So I think—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

COWAN:  As they look at things, I think people look at where the hardest-hit part is, that‘s probably far enough away.  It‘s probably in the back of everybody‘s mind, but I‘m not sure it‘s really affecting how many people are willing to come in here and help.  Not yet, anyway.

MATTHEWS:  Great reporting and good friend to have, Lee Cowan over there in Tokyo.  Thank you, sir, for reporting for us.

As we said, there‘s conflicting information about the status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where you have those four to six reactors in trouble there.  Here‘s what we know so far.  The top U.S.  nuclear regulator presented a grave assessment of the crippled reactor before Congress today.  He said the skeleton crew of emergency workers we‘ve been talking about may be subjected to lethal doses of radiation that could keep them from servicing the complex and preventing a full-blown meltdown.

Well, the primary concern centers on reactor 4 right now, where the spent fuel pool—that‘s up at the top—is believed to have boiled dry, leaving those spent fuel rods exposed and emitting high levels of radiation there.  Officials are also worried about the spent fuel pools in number 2, number 4 reactor, and four other reactors, in fact.  In addition, a second containment vessel, this one on reactor 3, may have ruptured earlier today.  Containment units are the last line of defense against widespread release of radioactive material.

If all this isn‘t enough to worry about, an estimated 70 percent of the fuel rods have been damaged at reactor 1, and Japan‘s national news agency says that a third of the rods at reactor 2 are damaged.  the cores of both of those reactors are believed to have been permanently—or actually partially melted at this point.  Here‘s the most recent picture of what the complex looks like.

Let‘s turn now to James Acton, by the way, who‘s associate with the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  I think you‘re up near my house, that building of yours.  Anyway, let‘s talk about this thing.  These reactors—run through the dangers to people that are going on right now.  When we cover this as news, were in terra incognita right now.  Tell me what to worry about here now in terms of the people.

JAMES ACTON, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE:  Well, Chris, I think you have to distinguish between two very different dangers.  The first danger is to the brave workers who are currently on site, who are working in an increasingly hostile, irradiated environment.  Radiation levels are fluctuating wildly on site.

The second danger is to the wider community living around the reactor area, and here the news is marginally better because right now, the levels of radiation that have been released into the environment, though unacceptably high, are unlikely to pose a risk to the health of people outside the evacuation zone.

MATTHEWS:  So go through what you‘ve heard about these various reactors.  There‘s up to six of them.  Tell me which one troubles you most in that order.  Let‘s do triage right now.  What worries you most about what you hear of these reactors?

ACTON:  Well, Chris, the first thing I should point out is that there is deep uncertainty at the moment about all of this.  For various reasons, the plant operators even acknowledge they don‘t know exactly what‘s going on.  I think the top concern at the moment is the spent fuel pond in reactor number 4.  It‘s lost the water, and that means it‘s lost the ability to cool and the ability to protect.

Reactors 2 and 3, the cores in those two reactors are both in serious states.  There‘s definitely been partial melting and there‘s significant trouble in trying to cool them.  Reactor 1 is still on the critical list.  There was some indication it‘s getting better today.

And then, finally, the spent fuel ponds in 5 and 6.  We don‘t know much about them yet.  They are hot, but they don‘t seem be as badly damaged as 4.

MATTHEWS:  If you were director of public safety in Japan right now, give me your order of what you would be doing right now in terms of concern.  You talked about the immediate sites.  Do you think they‘re being kept away far enough from that?  The people say—the word from the government in Japan, in Tokyo, is now 19 miles.  Is that enough to keep people away from there?  It seems like a very arbitrary number.

ACTON:  You know, Chris, I don‘t have the information to judge that independently.  But let me make the following point.  Five hundred thousand people in Japan have already had to be evacuated because of the earthquake and because of the tsunami.  This was the biggest natural disaster in Japan‘s history anyway.  And there‘s all these people without shelter, without food and without water.  So it‘s extremely difficult to evacuate people if you don‘t have anywhere to evacuate them to.

In many ways, the best option is, I suspect, to ask as many people to stay where they are, not to go outside.  There‘s no good option here, and the Japanese authorities are having to make it up as they go along, having been hit by this triple whammy.

MATTHEWS:  If you don‘t go outside—sticking to the nuclear threat -

you know, I‘m thinking of “On the Beach.”  I‘m thinking of all the science fiction we‘ve had to deal with.  Luckily, it‘s been fiction until now—about nuclear danger to people.  If it doesn‘t get on you—I mean, can you stay indoors and keep the particulates from getting on you?

ACTON:  That‘s exactly the idea.  Avoiding inhaling the particulates, avoiding getting the particulates on the skin doesn‘t avoid—doesn‘t avoid you getting irradiated by penetrating radiation, but it does take away some of the worst impacts.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about—I don‘t want to start a fear factor here.  I don‘t think there is yet in our country.  We‘re pretty quiet about in this country.  We‘re all watching this horror.  We don‘t feel like we‘re engaged in it.  Something can travel on airplanes.  There‘s still a lot of traffic out of Japan, air traffic.  Can products, clothing, whatever that‘s moving in the regular line of merchandising and commerce—can that get to America and cause any danger here?

ACTON:  It‘s something to watch out for, and there are perhaps sensible precautions that could be taken.  But again, I think the thing to emphasize here is that away from the plant in Japan, radiation levels are still relatively low.  Ten times above background sounds terrifying, but in absolute terms, it‘s no more extra radiation than about one-and-a-half CT scans.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re a great guest.  Thank you, James Acton.

ACTON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s for coming on in this very strange time and dangerous time.

Coming up: Those emergency workers at the damaged nuclear plant we were talking about, these heroic people on the job, are racing the clock to prevent a meltdown, but if they leave, if they‘re forced to leave, nobody stops a meltdown.  What risks are these men and women facing?  And what are the odds they can get the job done?  We‘re hearing about lethal levels of radiation surrounding these people and perhaps penetrating them.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, obviously, the earthquake-damaged nuclear plant over in Japan has many in this country asking whether it could happen here.  Well, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission compiled a list of the plants with the highest risk of suffering core damage from an earthquake, and the results are surprising.  The reactor with the biggest risk is at Indian Point in New York state, just outside New York City, with a 1 in 10,000 chance each year—I like that, I like those odds.  The Pilgrim 1 reactor in Massachusetts is second in terms of danger, followed by reactors at Limerick in Pennsylvania.  Number four on the list is Sequoia in Tennessee, and the fifth risk is—and these are way-out risks—is Beaver Valley, also of course, in Pennsylvania—Joe Willie Namath (ph).  The full list is on our Web site, MSNBC.com.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  he most riveting part of the Japanese nuclear disaster, I think and many of us think, is the heroism displayed by those 50 to 80 workers over there who are trying to keep that plant from melting down right now as we speak.  How much danger are they in?  And what must it be like to be one of them?

Jere Jenkins is director of the radiation lab at the Purdue University school of nuclear engineering, and Dr. Norman Kleiman is a research scientist at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia.  Gentlemen, thank you for coming on.

Mr. Jenkins, first of all, tell us what it‘s like to work in a facility where you have radiation all around you, you have nuclear reactors all around you.

JERE JENKINS, RADIATION LABORATORY, PURDUE UNIV.:  Well, we have a good understanding of what radiation does to the human body.  We also know in the United States, we‘re controlled by the federal regulations put out by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that control how much radiation we‘re allowed to be exposed to.  And we don‘t put ourselves in dangerous situations.  We can control what we get—what our exposure is by controlling the time we‘re exposed, the distance to the source, how much shielding we would use and the amount that we use.

And it is not in my best interest nor is it in any other person‘s best

interest to expose yourself to more than is necessary.  In fact, there‘s a

there‘s a rule put out by the government called “as low as reasonably achievable,” and that‘s—that‘s what we operate under.  So understanding what you‘re dealing with makes it so that you can work with it safely.

MATTHEWS:  When you‘re wearing one of those costumes with the big visor in the front of them, that protects you 100 percent?

JENKINS:  No, it doesn‘t, but I don‘t have to wear those because I don‘t work around anything that would—that would have that much potential for contamination or that much radiation.  Those contamination suits, or anti-contamination suits, are designed to keep you from bringing anything back out with you.  I think you‘ve talked about your—your people on the ground have had—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

JENKINS:  -- contamination on their shoes.  So you know, the suit is there to—it‘s designed to protect you from getting that contamination.

MATTHEWS:  Take us into those nuclear reactors right now, the six of them that are troubled over there.  What‘s it like—what risks are these guys taking?

(CROSSTALK)

JENKINS:  The risks that they‘re taking right now, I don‘t think it‘s life-threatening.  I don‘t have the information that the chairman of the NRC has.  Obviously, he has people on the ground.  And—and maybe he knows more. 

I have—I have been watching NHK and listening to what TEPCO and NISA, the—the Japanese nuclear agency, says, and right now the radiation levels that I have seen are not lethal.  They are manageable.  While you don‘t want to spend a lot of time dealing with them, you have to still keep the pumps running that are going to keep the fuel covered up with water. 

They have to check gauges, they have to check valves, they have to take measurements, other kinds of measurements.  And they also have people that are measuring the radiation that the workers would be exposed to.  So all of them understand what they‘re getting into. 

The NHK this morning said that the Japanese nuclear agency said they

were going to increase the dose that‘s allowed in emergency situations to

250 millisieverts.  And that is still well below the point where they would

actually think that you could have radiation sickness happen

MATTHEWS:  Dr. Kleiman, give me a sense.  If you were a relative of somebody, a spouse on one of those people themselves, these workers over there at that Fukushima plant, where we have those reactors that are going haywire over there, what are you worried about? 

DR. NORMAN KLEIMAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER:  Well, we‘re worried about acute radiation exposure.  But, as Jere said, those exposures would be occurring at much higher levels, probably in the range of 0.7 to 0.8 sieverts, considerably above the levels that—what we hear that those workers are being exposed to now.

And at levels that we presume they‘re going exposed to, they wouldn‘t have any of the prodromal effects, any of the acute effects of radiation exposure we would expect at those higher levels.  So they‘re taking reasonable precautions.

And they are slightly exposed to elevated risk of cancer over their lifetimes, but these are reasonable risks given the circumstances.  And we applaud their heroism. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the head of the Nuclear Regulatory Agency saying that they are reaching—Gregory Jaczko saying that they are reaching lethal levels?  What is a lethal level, compared to these sievert levels you‘re mentioning?

KLEIMAN:  Approximately 50 percent of the population would die from a lethal exposure between four and five sieverts.  That‘s considerably above, orders of magnitude above what is being reporting now.

And at one sievert or 0.8 to 1 sievert, they would begin to experience the symptoms of acute radiation syndrome, so nausea, gastrointestinal distress, and change in bone marrow. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go back to Jere.

The question I guess is what are we looking at in the next couple of days and hours even when you look at the possibility of a meltdown, which is there?  They don‘t say, the Japanese government—we‘re going to get to the credibility of the Japanese government in a minute when we come back from the next break.

But what is exactly the danger if this thing goes to meltdown and these workers are still on site? 

JENKINS:  If we should experience a meltdown—and I would remind you that Three Mile Island, we actually did melt 55 percent of the core there and it does not leave the—that molten fuel did not leave the pressure vessel.

But if there would be a meltdown and there was significant risk of exposure, then it‘s not going to be as important to keep water over the core anymore.  They will still want to try and get water in, but the workers could actually pull back. 

The containment is there to contain.  And we will, of course, hope that it does the best that it can.  But right now the important thing for the next probably two or three days is to make sure that they keep getting waiver over that fuel.  And I hear that it‘s possible they may have off-site power restored in the next day or two.

And that would definitely be a game-changer, because then they will be able to recirculate water through external heat exchangers and continue to cool the cores and possibly reach a cold shutdown level probably by the weekend. 

MATTHEWS:  But just real quickly, I only have a couple seconds here, but you said if it does go to meltdown or partial meltdown, there‘s no reason to have workers on site.  What, do you just give up then and you allow the radiation to spread?  Or what do you mean by there‘s no purpose if there is a meltdown in having workers still on site? 

JENKINS:  Well, they will move to another unit and they will try to rescue the other unit.  And I probably misspoke and shouldn‘t have said that they will just pull away.  There‘s plenty of work to do between the six units, especially with the four that are in the most jeopardy right now that the workers can go and put their efforts to better use elsewhere. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Thank you, Jere Jenkins. 

And thank you, Dr. Norman Kleiman.

Up next:  Many in Japan losing trust in their government, as I suggested, for failing to keep them informed during this crisis.  Are they getting the word to the people?  Is it honest?  Or are they covering up a bit?  We will get to the question here of credibility and what we‘re hearing and when we‘re hearing it. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.

Japan‘s nuclear crisis has been punctuated with a lack of clear and timely updates from Japanese officials themselves.  Are they downplaying this threat?  Can the information we‘re getting from Tokyo be trusted? 

Joining us right now is Salon‘s Joan Walsh, our friend, and Greg Mello, a newcomer from the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear watchdog.

Greg, give me a sense.  Are you anti-nuclear—just to get your background here, are you anti-nuclear energy?  You don‘t think we should be using it?  Greg? 

I think we have a technical problem. 

Let‘s go to Joan Walsh about this.

Joan, do you have any reporting to give us on the credibility of the Japanese officials so far?  They seemed like in the beginning they were very nationalistic, as you might expect, and didn‘t want help from the outside.  “We have got things under control” seemed to be the theme.

And later it seems to have been developing from that to something a little scarier, to put it lightly. 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Well, yes.

And I think the scary thing today, Chris, is that there seems to be an information gap—let‘s put it that way—between what the Japanese government is telling us and what the American government is telling us.  And as you have been reporting, Mr. Jaczko from the Nuclear Regulatory Agency is talking about a much more serious near-meltdown condition than the Japanese officials are talking about.

And our—you know, our government is now recommending more than twice the evacuation zone that the Japanese government is telling their people to observe. 

So that is starting to be scary, because they are the people who are closest to the information.  If we, as a global community, can‘t trust them to tell us what‘s really going on, I think that‘s when you start to have a lot of distrust and even panic both in Japan and beyond Japan. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Joan, my friend, let‘s go to our usual area of discussion, partisan politics.

WALSH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  For years, you and I understood that a lot of Democrats were anti-nuclear.  They thought that was too dangerous.  And now—now—about a year or two ago, they began to soften.

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Even the president has begun to accept the fact, given our energy crisis, you have to go to nuclear.

Do you think they went—they were right the first time? 

WALSH:  I think we were right the first time.  I remember Three Mile Island.  I went to that—I went to the anti-nuclear rally in Washington. 

I‘m not going to lie to you, Chris.  I have never really pulled away from that.  I‘m happy to be convinced otherwise.  I‘m really—I would be thrilled to be convinced that this—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, this ain‘t going to help. 

WALSH:  But this is not helping.  It‘s really not.

And those of us who have retained our skepticism have been kind of called hysterical and other names by the industry.  But I think this is proving that the scariest thing about nuclear energy is we don‘t really know what the worst-case scenario is.

And as you have been saying all week, look, the—all our energy

sources are somewhat risky.  There‘s some risk involved.  But I think as a

certainly as a nation and hopefully as a global community, we could come together and figure out how do we emphasize the safe, renewable sources while we wean ourselves off these more dangerous, more exploited sources. 

And that‘s just never become the national project that you and I might

have thought it would become after Three Mile Island and after these awful

what oil has done to our economy at this point.  We really are at a decision point, at an inflection point, where I expect more leadership from our president.

And I‘m hoping we will be getting it in the days to come. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, on the current situation, Japan has told its citizens to stay away within 15 -- 12 miles of Fukushima plant, to evacuate those 12 miles—

WALSH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS: -- and, up to 19 miles, to stay indoors, which—because you get these particulates on your skin if you walk outside.

WALSH:  Right. 

The United States is more cautious.  Today, the embassy urged citizens living over there, our people over there in Japan, to get 50 miles away or to take shelter. 

Of course, let‘s go back now to Greg Mello.  We have got him online. 

WALSH:  Great.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Mello, tell us the sense of—do you think the Japanese government has been straight so far? 

GREG MELLO, THE LOS ALAMOS STUDY GROUP:  No, not at all. 

I think the issues have been minimized all along.  And I think events have gotten ahead of the truth-telling from the government.  I don‘t think they have been forthcoming, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Give me an example. 

MELLO:  Well, I don‘t think—we didn‘t hear anything about spent fuel fires in the beginning, even though spent fuel fires are one of the most serious problems that could develop at the facility and might have been expected under the circumstances. 

I think we hear euphemisms as we go along, and we never quite get the whole story until it becomes too big to keep from the public. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You make that as a predictive.  You speak as if that‘s predictive, that‘s normal behavior, to cover up.

MELLO:  Yes, I—well, it‘s been normal for this company in the past. 

It‘s normal for the industry to some extent. 

It‘s a highly ideological industry, and it also involves a lot of concentration of political power, as well as physical power.  And those institutions become very powerful, very close to the regulators, and an adversarial culture develops where they‘re constantly pushing against the safety measures, because that‘s where the money is. 

If you did every single thing that you—that was possible to make it safe, then you couldn‘t make any money.  So—and the electricity would be prohibitively expensive.  So, somewhere, you have to draw a line, and that‘s a contested area, so -- 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MELLO:  So, yes, so it‘s adversarial.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you something, Doctor.  For years, we were all

a lot of people on my—well, the liberal side of things would say, we don‘t want nuclear. 

So, the crazy LaRouchies would go to every airport with their clickers pushing for nuclear, because they always grab the business guy they think will be on their side against the liberals.  That debate is going to get a lot hotter.  And I‘m not sure the LaRouchies are going to be jumping on nuclear as their favorite cause, whether it‘s—usually, it‘s Jane Fonda one of those other issues they jump on to.

I don‘t think nuclear is going to be as popular after this as it was, say, a week ago. 

Anyway, thank you, Greg Mello, for coming on.  I want your point of view on this how all the time. 

Thank you, Joan.  You‘re always welcome with your views, because they‘re smart.

MELLO:  Thank you. 

WALSH:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  The former altar-boy-turned-DA, district attorney, of my old city, Philadelphia, has gone after some priests in that diocese.  The grand jury has indicted them for—well, wait until you hear what these priests actually do. 

I have been hearing “molest” so long, I‘m tired of the word.  Now you‘re going to know.  If you don‘t want to watch the next 10 minutes, I can understand, but if you want to know what‘s going on with these priests, you‘re going to hear it in the next couple minutes on HARDBALL.  We are finally going to get it out of the closet what‘s going on up there with these bad priests. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

The bears on a rampage on Wall Street today, the Dow Jones industrial average plummeting 242 points in extremely heavy trading, the S&P 500 lower by 25, the Nasdaq shedding a full 50 points. 

Stocks did finish, believe it or not, off their worst levels of the

day, despite giving up nearly all of their gains for the entire year.  On -

word that a power line to that damaged nuclear plant is almost in place helped to lift stocks off their lows. 

European stocks were already lower after Moody‘s downgraded Portugal‘s debt rating by two notches.  And analyst downgrades for technology giants IBM and Apple hurt a sector already reeling from concerns about supply shortages due to Japan. 

Meanwhile, the dollar sunk to its lowest level again the yen in 16 years.  Investors are watching to see if Japan will move to weaken the yen if it goes much higher.

Finally, new housing starts plunged more than 22 percent in February.  That‘s the biggest drop in 27 years, with new building permits hitting a record low. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We are first in business worldwide—now back to HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN RIGALI, ARCHBISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA:   During this lent, we are especially conscious of the grave sins of sexual abuse committed against minors, in particular by members of the clergy.  We experience the need to ask God‘s forgiveness repeatedly in our liturgy and to offer prayers of reparation for these sins and for all the sins of the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re back. 

That was Philadelphia Archbishop Justin Rigali, a good guy.

Last week, Philadelphia‘s district attorney has charged three priests and a parochial schoolteacher with raping and assaulting two young boys.  Another priest was charged with covering up the abuse and endangering other children. 

“New York Times” columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about it all day in a column called “Avenging Altar Boy.”

That altar boy is Philadelphia‘s district attorney, R. Seth Williams. 

He joins us now. 

Mr. District Attorney, it‘s an honor to have you on the program.  I think you‘re doing God‘s work here in a strange, strange environment. 

R. SETH WILLIAMS, PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  These priests—these priests, you know, I have never seen it detailed, what they do.  I have never felt the word molest told us enough. 

When you‘re—I want you to—I‘m going to read Maureen Dowd‘s amazing column today.  And I want you to give us some legal information about what—the crimes involved here, as you see it, facing the grand jury report. 

“The Philadelphia grand jury report is especially sordid,” this is the column, “it tells the story of a fifth grade altar boy at St. Jerome‘s school, they given the pseudonym Billy.  Father Engelhardt is accused here, “plied him with sacramental wine and pulled pornographic magazines out of a bag in the sacristy,” that‘s behind the altar, “and told the child it was time to become a man.”

“A week later, after Billy served an early mass, the report states that Engelhardt instructed him to take off his clothes and perform oral sex on him.”  We can imagine that scene.  “Then the priest told the boy he was dismissed.

After that, Billy was in effect passed around Engelhardt‘s—his colleagues.  Father Edward Avery undressed the boy, told him that God loved him and then had him perform sex on the priest.  Next was the turn of Bernard Shero, a lay teacher in the school.  Shero offered Billy a ride home, but instead stopped at a park, told Billy they were going to have some fun,” in his words, “took off the boy‘s clothes, orally and anally raped him and then made him walk the rest of the way home.”

Certainly these pictures are the most graphic I‘ve seen.  Is there anything we‘re missing here, Mr. District Attorney, in the behavior or the accused behavior of these men?

WILLIAMS:  No, it‘s horrific.  Every time I hear it and read about it and talk about it, it makes me sick to my stomach.  And, you know, here‘s a young boy, his parents are trying to raise him to be a moral, God-fearing, God-serving young man and they were taking him to be an altar boy before school—before school day began.  And one of the priests that he was entrusted to raped and sodomized him after giving him wine and showing him pornography.  That same priest then bragged about it to another priest in the same parish who then did that same thing, raped him and sodomized him.

The boy immediately began manifesting all the telltale signs.  He didn‘t want to play with his friends.  He didn‘t want to eat.  He began vomiting.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  And his parents took him away from the summer, when he came back after summer vacation, they had told his sixth grade teacher.  That man drove him to a park, raped him and sodomized him in a car.  So, this is just horrific—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Without getting into the charges specifically, we have to be careful.  These are all in process in the justice system.  I was an altar boy in Philadelphia.  I grew up, I was an altar boy, did the morning masses, the convent masses, I even did hospital masses down (INAUDIBLE).  I went through the whole thing with priests, never had any problems like this.

I can only imagine the priests I dealt with growing up would have told other priests if anybody did anything like this.

How does—how does one priest know another priest they can sort of form these combines that you‘re describing here?

WILLIAMS:  Well, I don‘t know.  I think these are just sick men.  I try and tell everyone, this has nothing to do—

MATTHEWS:  Did they know each other?

WILLIAMS:  Of course, they were working together.  Well, two priests, Father and Avery, and the father, the first priest you mentioned, they were in the same parish at St. Jerome‘s Parish.  They also then told the teacher at that school, Bernard Shero, who then later raped and sodomized Billy in his car.  So, they just talked about it.

But I try to explain to everybody, Chris, that this has nothing to do with Catholicism.  This is evil men who did horrific things and I have to hold them accountable for that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  From what you know—

WILLIAMS:  We have to stand up and defend children.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. District Attorney, Philadelphia is a town that‘s so parochial in a good sense.  And everybody talks about different neighborhoods by parishes.  You know, if you were Jewish or Protestant, you know the parishes.

WILLIAMS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I group up in that wonderful traditionally as you did.  You went to Catholic school, you know it.  What percentage of priests we know are involved in this horrific cover-up and molestation and rape of young boys?

WILLIAMS:  Well, what we found—

MATTHEWS:  One percent?  Less than 1 percent?  What is it?

WILLIAMS:  Well, I think the Catholic Church does tremendous work across the world.  But here in Philadelphia, we found—we thought that there were about 37 priests that were in the active ministry that we believed had credible allegations of inappropriate behavior, rape or some sort of sexual assault with children.

MATTHEWS:  OK, inappropriate and rape is a big wide stretch.

WILLIAMS:  That‘s correct.

MATTHEWS:  What does inappropriate mean?  What would you say within the bounds of what you think is criminal?

WILLIAMS:  Well, clearly, anything in which you inappropriately touch a child, you touch a child in their private parts, you begin taking children out and giving them alcohol.  It‘s all part of a grooming that often leads to—

MATTHEWS:  Most people would say that‘s criminal, I think.  It‘s not just chatting with them—I don‘t even know what would be marginal.  I‘m just trying to be honest with people.  They think we‘re being too sanctimonious here.  I just want to make sure that you know you‘re following the law and criminal behavior.  And that‘s what it is.

How would you describe the work of his eminence Cardinal Rigali, has he been helpful to this?  How would you describe it?  Can you describe it?

WILLIAMS:  Well, yes, we have a good working relationship now.  And that the facts that we have these cases of Billy and Mark, you know, we‘re getting all this national taken is because the archdiocese shared them with my office.

MATTHEWS:  Good.

WILLIAMS:  And we impaneled a grand jury in February of 2010 that brought in dozens of witnesses and reviewed thousands of documents.  We saw there was a conspiracy, there is a cover-up and that Monsignor Lynn, who was a secretary for clergy would often just recycle priests across the archdiocese without informing the new pastor that there‘s a pedophile in your rectory, don‘t allow them around children.  And so, we had to hold them accountable.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s such a thing as good and bad, you throw us a good case.  A third or half the people that watch us every night who are Roman Catholic or no Roman Catholic people, they all want this stopped.  They want it broken, they want the conspiracy to end, the secrecy to look at the Omerta, the code of keeping it secret, the looking out for people with so-called psychological problems—they want it all to end, no more looking out for the priests who are bad or troubled, whatever the nice word is, it‘s now for the kids.

And I hope the cardinal is part of this, I think he is, and thank you.  You are a great district attorney.  I‘m proud to be talking to you tonight, Seth Williams of the Philadelphia district attorney‘s office.

Up next: is John Boehner losing control of the Republican Caucus?  This is a little more light-hearted.  It‘s about Tea Party people partying too much on their ideology and not thinking about their Grand Old Party.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEW:  With Republican U.S. Congressman Dean Heller running for the Senate out in Nevada, guess who‘s back?  Sharron Angle, the old Second Amendment lady.  She‘s announced today in a video that she‘ll run for Heller‘s—I know, she‘s going to win for the safe one, Nevada second district.  She‘s going to win too, probably.

Angle, of course, lost to Harry Reid for the Senate just last November after calling for Second Amendment remedies against members of Congress if they don‘t follow their rules of the Tea Party.  She‘ll be facing a primary with two other Republican candidates.  Look out for them.  I mean, they should look out.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

On Tuesday, that‘s this week, Speaker John Boehner succeeded finally in getting the House to pass another spending bill just to keep the government operating for another three weeks.  Well, he did it despite 54 Republicans voting a big nay.  That‘s no.  Eighty-five Democrats voted yes to keep going there.  And that‘s how it worked.

But there‘s growing tension between the spending cut hawks, a lot of freshman members of Congress, and the pragmatist Republicans.  So, that party is starting to see a schism a sorts.

Is there more trouble on the way for Speaker Boehner?

With us now is MSNBC‘s political analyst, Richard Wolf, and “New York Times” columnist Charles Blow.

Charles, every time I look at Boehner I think of the Jack Lemon character in “The China Syndrome.”  He looks like a guy who‘s got a lot of mess behind him to explain and he doesn‘t quite like it.  But he has to explain it every day.  And he looks a little tired like he‘s been up late the night before.

That‘s to me—how is Boehner going to deal with the fact that come the next couple of votes, he‘s going to need the moderate Democrats?  He‘ll never get Pelosi‘s crowd, but the moderate Democrats.  What‘s that going to do to the Republican alliance?

CHARLES BLOW, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Well, I think what you‘re seeing is there‘s a bit of a split now and the Tea Party supporters are having—you know, there‘s a bit of a split in that caucus.  They‘re having to come to grips with reality.  There‘s a part of that wing that sees a growing role for themselves and trying to find a way that they continue to be a major force in the party now and far to the future.

There is another part that is much more extremist, much more absolutist.  They do not believe in compromise at all.  And they are taking out their anger at Boehner because he‘s having to deal with the reality, which is that they do not control both houses of Congress.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BLOW:  And they don‘t—there is not a Republican president.  They cannot get their way.  There is no way to do it.  And one thing the American people will not stomach—we found that out last season, before the midterms—was, you know, not getting results.  People want to see things happen.  And if they can‘t make them happen, that‘s a problem.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the perception in the polls.  Charles, that‘s in the polls.  We see people do not want to see the government crumble, come apart.  They don‘t want Sampson in the temple bringing down pillars.

But there are exceptions.  And there are some people want to bring down the temple.  And here‘s Congressman Mike Pence, no religious concern here involved, and Speaker Boehner yesterday before the vote, Pence is on the outside of the temple right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  I think it‘s time to take a stand for taxpayers and for future generations.  And I will not vote for the short-term continuing resolution that is coming to the floor of the House today to make that statement.  Things don‘t change in Washington, you do what you have to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The gentleman‘s time has expired.

PENCE:  It‘s time to pick a fight.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Listen, I understand some of our members want to do more.  But what is it in the bill they disagree with?  Nothing.  Nothing.  And so, we‘ll see when we get to the floor today, but I‘m confident that this bill will pass.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MATTHEWS:   They haven‘t been in town two months and they‘re fighting. 

This has been a short honeymoon for the Tea Partiers and the old regulars.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  These were the straws that the White House is grasping for in the misery of the midterms that they would be—they could triangulate just within the Republican Party.  Pick off people, put the pressure on—

MATTHEWS:  What causes Republicans or any normal legislator to break apart?  The practicality of following your ideology—when you go into the war and you have to cut programs that have people depend on them.

WOLFFE:  Ideology on one side, but the obvious polling for the House leadership which is that shutting down the government is a loser for them.  They‘re not doing this just because they want to be responsible.  I know that‘s what the White House says.  You know, government has made them more mature.

That‘s not it.  They know that shutting down the government, that apocalyptic clash that the Tea Party folks want is a loser for them.  So, this is how you can splinter people off.  And that means John Boehner has to adapt to a different scenario.  Instead of discipline and unity which works for two years, he‘s got to have a coalition of the willing.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it puts the Democrats into a bind because it seems to me, Charles, that now, Democrats have to come forward to keep the government running because there‘s not enough Republicans to do it.  So, they—I‘m not talking about Nancy Pelosi, the left coast and East Coast liberals for New York and now in California.  I‘m talking about those moderates in the country that have survived.  They‘re going to have to come forward.  I guess they want to cut some things, too, or are willing, too.

BLOW:  Right.  I think they‘ll be willing to—and I think it‘s not necessarily a bind for them.  It is a bind for the Republicans.  I mean, Boehner is going to have to cut a deal.  If he cannot get the freshman Tea Party guys to come along, he‘s going to have to cut a deal with those moderate Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  I love it.

BLOW:  And what we‘ve seen so far is that, you know, there‘s a poll out today that the advantage that the Republicans had going into November in terms of dealing with the deficit, they had a big advantage.  Today‘s poll shows that advantage has completely evaporated.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BLOW:  Now, people see no difference between who has an advantage, whether it‘d be the Republicans in Congress or President Obama and the biggest change in that were Tea Party supporters.  He is going to have to deal with that segment of his base and cutting a deal with the Democrats is going to make that all the more hard.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Charles Blow of “The New York Times.”  Thank you, Richard Wolffe.

When we return, “Let Me Finish” with why it‘s dangerous when our elected officials demonstrate they don‘t know nothing about history.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with the failure on the part of some politicians to know our history.

This is not about an individual or group like the Tea Partiers.  This is about us—our country, its ideals and the progress it‘s represented in human history.

And it is important.

The key message about America is that we got a lot of it right in 1776: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In many ways, the history of America, at our best, has been the slow progression of rights that have come about from those words.

All men?  How about African slaves brought here for 150 years of unpaid servitude?

All men?  How about women?  It took until the 20th century to include women in the most basic right—to have a hand, a though, in the work of our republic—the right to vote.

Liberty?  Really?  Did we really give people liberty during the McCarthy period when people were having their careers ruined by wild allegations, by rolling investigations of public officials for possibly holding, quote, “anti-American attitudes”?

This is not gotcha journalism to expect elected public officials to know such basics about our country that we all love.

The truly great thing about America is not just the people who got us started got it wondrously close to right in principle at the beginning, but that the American people since have fitfully, with great difficulty, strong debate, and even a brutal Civil War, made it better.

That‘s our history and we should be proud of it and proud to know it.

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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