Canadian facilities cleared for operation

02 March 2012

Canadian nuclear regulators have renewed the operating licences for Cameco's nuclear fuel cycle facilities at Port Hope and Blind River.

Port Hope conversion plant: five more years but no to effluent discharge (Image: Cameco)

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has granted ten-year licence renewals for Cameco's uranium refinery at Blind River and its fuel manufacturing plant at Port Hope. Both licences will be valid from 1 March 2012 to 28 February 2022. The Port Hope conversion plant has been granted a five-year licence renewal, with its new licence valid from 1 March 2012 to 28 February 2017.

CNSC made its decisions on all three renewals following public hearings held in November 2011 and January 2012, where it received and considered submissions from Cameco and other intervenors as well as recommendations from CNSC staff. The CNSC has directed Cameco to prepare various status reports on safety and performance as well as compliance activities at stipulated points during the licence period for all three facilities.

Blind River is the world's largest commercial uranium refinery, processing uranium concentrates from mines in Canada and other countries to make high purity uranium trioxide (UO3). At the Port Hope conversion plant, UO3 is converted to uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for shipment to the world's uranium enrichment plants and uranium dioxide (UO2) for manufacture into fuel for Candu-type heavy-water reactors. The Port Hope manufacturing plant produces natural uranium Candu fuel from UO2.

A request from Cameco for the Port Hope conversion plant licence to retain a condition allowing some flexibility on the release of liquid treated effluent was denied because, the CNSC said, it was "of the view that Cameco has taken a positive step in removing these releases and encourages Cameco to avoid reverting to past practices." Cameco stopped discharging treated process effluent from the plant in 2007 but wished to retain the option as it is currently evaluating additional treatment processes to relieve increased pressure on existing groundwater treatment facilities. The regulator acknowledged the reasons behind Cameco's request but said that the company must apply for a future licence amendment "if Cameco considers it absolutely necessary to resume this practice."

Cameco voluntarily closed the Port Hope conversion plant for over a year from July 2007 to October 2008 to deal with localised contamination after the discovery of uranium-containing chemicals underneath one of the plant buildings. Subsequent problems with supplies of hydrogen fluoride, a key raw material for the conversion process, saw further operation interruptions continue until mid-2009.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News