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Company to decommission US reactors has corruption history

The New Jersey-based company Holtec International has agreed to purchase three soon-to-close U.S. nuclear power stations to try out its new rapid decommissioning strategy. Pending U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval, Chicago-based Exelon and New Orleans-based Entergy announced sale agreements for the Oyster Creek (NJ), Pilgrim (MA) and Palisades (MI) nuclear power stations to a fledgling company, Comprehensive Decommissioning International (CDI), formed by the 2018 merger of parent companies Holtec International and SNC-Lavalin (SNCL). CDI is offering that its prompt decommissioning strategy for commercial power reactors and site restoration can be completed inside of eight years. But Lavalin is embroiled Canadian Crown federal charges for fraud, embezzelment and bribery and blacklisted from doing business with the World Bank's global contracts.

However, closer scrutiny of these companies raises some serious red flags. While every effort needs to be made to decommission nuclear plants promptly, close attention needs to be paid to exactly who is doing it and where the money stream -- along with the radioactive waste stream -- is going.

When Oyster Creek shuts down, Exelon has set up Plan A to sell the 47-year reactor site and its high-level nuclear waste to Holtec International, headquartered in Camden. Pending approval by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the sale of the “possession only” license, Exelon will transfer the power plant’s estimated $982 million decommissioning trust fund to Holtec, which will in turn contract the job out to CDI. CDI is a limited liability corporation formed in a 2018 merger of Holtec International and the Canadian engineering giant SNC Lavalin based in Montreal, Quebec.

SNC Lavalin is a long-established global energy development corporation spanning the oil, gas, nuclear and renewable power industry. But that history to date arrives with serious allegations and findings of corruption and fraud in the corporation’s business dealings that now need airing with regard to the pending Oyster Creek nuclear decommissioning deal and several others also on CDI’s new agenda.  

According to Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, SNC Lavalin Group Inc. is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Canada in September or October over federal corruption and fraud charges. The Crown prosecutor has combined two cases against SNC that focus on the embezzlement of funds, bribery and wrongdoing for lucrative contracts in Libya between 2001 and 2011. A former senior executive is named in one case and SNC and several subsidiaries are named in the other.

SNC has acknowledged wrongdoing with assurances that sweeping ethics changes are now in place. The SNC former executive has already been found guilty of bribery in a Swiss federal criminal court. In a separate criminal case and pending trial, another former SNC chief executive officer faces charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud and using forged documents for a SNC contract to build new $1.3-billion super-hospital in Montreal.

In ongoing findings of SNC Lavalin corruption, the World Bank debarred the corporation and 100 of its affiliates in 2013 for 10 years from further Bank contracts. This followed misconduct involving conspiracy to pay bribes and bidding misrepresentations involving Bank-financed contracts in Bangladesh and Cambodia in violation of procurement guidelines. The SNC Lavalin sanction from 2013 to 2023 is the longest-running financially punitive action taken by the World Bank. According to the Bank’s related press release, “This case is testimony to collective action against global corruption.” 

Given the still uncertain cost and a limited trust fund to do the Oyster Creek decommissioning right, every effort needs to be made to take precaution with financial safeguards from the very beginning. The State of New Jersey would be wise to authorize the establishment of a Nuclear Decommissioning Citizen Advisory Panel, as was legislated in Vermont and Massachusetts, to watchdog their nuclear power stations, to focus squarely on making the business of decommissioning and site restoration more transparent and accountable.