Background: SNC-Lavalin, Radioactive Waste, and Corruption
Cutting Corners on Radioactive Waste Management?
Years ago, SNC-Lavalin became the proud owner of the entire commercial
CANDU division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), at a cost of only
$15 million, thanks to $17 billion in subsidies by the federal taxpayer over
many years. The deal was closed in 2011 by the conservative government of
Stephen Harper, who simultaneously gave SNC-Lavalin an additional $75
million subsidy to incentivize the firm to continue developing the Advanced
CANDU Reactor (ACR) — a mythical device that has never seen the light of
Listen to 2012 interview on Radio-Canada International:
Then, in 2014, just before the Trudeau government came to power, the
Harper administration gave SNC-Lavalin and its US and UK corporate
partners management control over $8 billion in federally-owned nuclear
waste liabilities, with a mandate to reduce those liabilities as quickly and
cheaply as possible. Most of the waste is at three sites: Port Hope on the
shore of Lake Ontario, Chalk River on banks of the Ottawa River, and the
Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment at Pinawa in Manitoba.
True to form, SNC-Lavalin and its consortium partners — operating under the
banner of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) — has announced radical new
plans for dealing with Ottawa’s multi-billion dollar waste problems licketysplit. Instead of carefully dismantling the highly radioactive structures of two
shut-down nuclear reactors in Manitoba and Ontario, and removing all the
radioactive debris from the site, as previously planned, the consortium will
simply dump all the long-lived radioactive components into the sub-basement
of the reactor building and flood the interior with quick-setting cement,
turning those structures into concrete radioactive waste dumps right beside
the Winnipeg and Ottawa Rivers. Many of the dozens of human-made
radioactive materials housed within will remain dangerously radioactive for
thousands of years, and the concrete structures will never last that long.
Listen to March 13, 2019, interview on CKUT, McGill Radio:
A Pattern of Corruption?
SNC-Lavalin is a Montreal-based multinational engineering firm with offices in
50 countries and operations in 160 countries. Beginning in 2010 SNC-Lavalin
management teams have been accused of financial fraud and massive bribery
in a number of overseas contexts, such as the Kerala dam project in India
(1995-2008), the Padma Bridge contract in Bangladesh, and a variety of
projects in Libya (2001-2010).
In 2008, Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saadi was treated by SNC-Lavalin to a wild
time in Montreal replete with prostitutes, $30,000 worth of porn, lavish gifts
including yachts, and $160 million in bribes paid through devious cash
transfers. When Stéphane Roy, the SNC-Lavalin financial controller, was fired
for his part in this and other fraudulent activities, he claimed that he was only
following orders from higher-ups in the company.
In 2011, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began a domestic
investigation into alleged SNC-Lavalin crimes based on a tip from Swiss
authorities, and laid corruption charges in 2015. By 2014, SNC-Lavalin’s
overseas construction manager Ben Aissa was in jail in Switzerland and SNCLavalin agent Cynthia Vanier was jailed in Mexico for fraud, bribery, and
human trafficking, having using $1.8 million of SNC-Lavalin’s money to
provide forged documents to Saadi Gaddafi and his family.
During this period of time, some 10,000 Canadian employees of SNC-Lavalin
left the firm, most of them voluntarily.
Citing a pattern of corruption on the part of SNC-Lavalin, in 2013 the World
Bank banned SNC and its affiliates for 10 years from bidding on any projects
financed by the Bank. SNC-Lavalin’s CEO Pierre Duhaime resigned in 2012
and was shortly arrested by Montreal police for fraud and other crimes.
Additional criminal charges were laid against senior SNC-Lavalin executives
from 2014 to 2019 for bribery (amounting to $22.5 million) in connection
with the construction of the McGill superhospital. SNC-Lavalin is also being
investigated for potential criminal activity in connection with a contract to
repair Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge (early 2000s).
An SNC-Lavalin ex-VP pleaded guilty in 2018 to orchestrating an elaborate
scheme of illegal political donations, with $117,000 funnelled through the
bank accounts of SNC-Lavalin employees who were reimbursed from
corporate funds with disguised book-keeping entries utilizing specialized
secret codes. Because a plea-bargain was struck, the case will not go to trial
and the public may never know what politicians received these illegal
donations. The man who pled guilty says he is being made a scapegoat for
the many others who were involved in the scheme.
A Wake-Up Call
In 2019, Jody Wilson-Rayboud — the first indigenous person and the first
woman to ever hold the post of Canada’s Attorney General — resigned from
the Trudeau Cabinet (where she had also served as Justice Minister) because
of what she later described as a persistent pattern of inappropriate pressure
from her cabinet colleagues, including the Prime Minister, to prevent SNCLavalin from facing criminal charges in a Canadian court of law. If found
guilty of criminal offences, SNC-Lavalin would be banned for 10 years from
any federal government contracts.
The Prime Minister has argued that he needs to do everything possible to
save 9000 jobs. He claims that SNC Lavalin will move its headquarters out of
Montreal if they have to endure a criminal court prosecution. But SNC-Lavalin
has only 8500 jobs in all of Canada, of which 3000 are in the province of
Quebec, with 700 at the head office in Montreal. The CEO of SNC-Lavalin has
denied Trudeau’s claims about loss of jobs and closing of the headquarters.
Canadians should pay attention to what is going on. If indeed SNC-Lavalin
has a crooked corporate culture that cannot be cured, should they be trusted
to put the public interest ahead of their own bottom line? Yet the Government
of Canada cannot even be bothered to articulate a federal policy governing
the long-term management of radioactive waste so as to offer the best
protection for future generation and for the environment. This gives the
consortium that SNC-Lavalin belongs to a free hand to propose inferior
radioactive waste management schemes. Instead of protecting its citizens
from harm, Ottawa is trying to protect SNC-Lavalin from prosecution! Is it not
possible that the same shady bookkeeping practices designed by SNC-Lavalin
to hide large financial payouts may also be used one day to hide the diversion
of plutonium from nuclear facilities, for the clandestine “benefit” of wellpaying bomb-makers?
Gordon Edwards, PhD, President,
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,
SNC-Lavalin controversy reaches into Manitoba
by DAVE TAYLOR, Winnipeg Free Press, March 14, 2019
THE testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould before the House of Commons justice
committee suggests Liberal government officials will go to great lengths to
influence our judicial system. According to the former justice minister, veiled
threats were made in an effort to rescue SNC-Lavalin from facing a trial for
bribery and fraud and, if convicted, a 10-year ban on seeking Canadian
The Quebec engineering giant’s lobbying efforts put pressure on key
bureaucrats to counter prosecution so they could stay in the government
contracts game. This type of misconduct is not uncommon for this
corporation, as they have been banned from World Bank projects for 10
years. Canadians should watch with great trepidation as SNC-Lavalin and
partners make plans for the operation and decommissioning of Canada’s
SNC-Lavalin is one of four partners in the Canadian National Energy Alliance,
which operates the Pinawa site and is intent on filling the defunct radioactive
reactor’s remains with concrete. The alliance intends to monitor the
sarcophagus for a mere 100 years and leave future generations to clean up
the mess that will eventually occur when the radioactivity leaches into the
It has altered the original decommissioning plan significantly, cutting corners
to save money. Deteriorating concrete canisters next to the Winnipeg River
will be emptied, and these 46 truckloads of high-level radioactive waste will
accompany another 2,000 shipments of low- and intermediate-level waste
through the Whiteshell and Kenora. The ultimate destination is a poorly
designed near-surface disposal facility in Chalk River, Ont.
Even before the old reactor has been filled, the same alliance wants the federal government to finance yet another prototype, a small modular reactor
(SMR). Someone should remind them that the last prototype reactor, called
the Slowpoke, has long since died and its radioactive carcass remains on site.
Contact has been made between Pinawa’s mayor and provincial
representatives, with the goal of hosting the reactor at the Whiteshell labs.
Ontario First Nations chiefs have recognized this folly and have passed a
resolution calling on the government of Canada to cease funding and support
for this SMR program, but Starcore Nuclear Ltd. of Maryland has submitted a
$150-million proposal. It will go nowhere unless SNC-Lavalin and friends
convince the federal government to throw tax dollars at it.
These reactors are a money pit that takes away valuable investment in
sustainable technology that can address climate change.
The alliance dreams of a non-existent market that will take up to 20 years to
develop when action needs to be taken now. SMRs also suffer from the
nuclear industry’s Achilles heel, radioactive waste, for which there is no
solution in Canada.
SNC-Lavalin’s lobbyists met with Manitoba MP Jim Carr twice last year,
according to the Office of the Commissioner for Lobbying, and put forth
“recommendations on federal policy re: nuclear power development in
Considering the pressure felt by the former justice minster and the extent of
SNC-Lavalin’s influence, the public should be very concerned about these
meetings, especially when the government is being urged not to subject
these reactors to a full environmental assessment review.
In the event the SNC-Lavalin bribery case goes to trial and the company is
convicted, it will be interesting to see just what happens to these poorly laid
plans for new reactors and the decommissioning of nuclear sites. Considering
the extent of the company’s misconduct in other areas, closer scrutiny by
Manitobans on the Pinawa file would seem prudent.
Dave Taylor teaches at the University of Winnipeg and has been a watchdog of the nuclear
industry in Manitoba for more than 40 years.