Cigar Lake enters operation

13 March 2014

Production has begun at the Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. Start-up of the underground mine was delayed several years due to flooding.

Cigar Lake headframes in snow 460 (Cameco)
The first ore has been produced by Cigar Lake (Image: Cameco)

Cameco, the mine's operator, announced that Cigar Lake's mining system and underground processing circuits "are operational" and that extraction of ore has begun.

This ore is being transported some 70 kilometers by road to Areva's McClean Lake mill for processing through a toll-milling agreement. However, the actual processing of the ore from Cigar Lake at the mill is expected to begin by the end of June.

The McClean Lake mill will produce between 2 million and 3 million pounds of uranium concentrate (770 to 1154 tU) in 2014, increasing output to 18 million pounds (6925 tU) by 2018.

Cigar Lake is the world's second largest high-grade uranium deposit, with grades that are 100 times the world average. In sandy soil, the orebody is being frozen prior to mining to prevent water inflow and improve radiation protection. The ore is being removed by a jet boring system, using water under high pressure to carve out cavities in the orebody with the resulting ore slurry collected through pipes. This is being taken to underground grinding and thickening circuits and then pumped to the surface as slurry, which is then loaded into special containers for the journey to McClean Lake.

Cigar Lake is owned by Cameco (50%), Areva (37%), Idemitsu (8%) and Tepco (5%). The McClean Lake mill is owned by Areva (70%), Denison (22.5%) and Japan's Overseas Uranium Resource Development Company (7.5%).

Development of Cigar Lake began in 2005 and the mine was originally scheduled to begin operating in early 2008. However, its development was delayed by three separate incidents of water inflow, one of which led to the flooding of the entire complex in 2006. Remediation work at the mine was completed in 2011. A uranium mining licence from the Canadian nuclear regulator was issued last June but Cameco delayed the start of operation for additional work on underground ore handling equipment.

Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel said, "Cigar Lake is among the most technically challenging mining projects in the world. The start of ore production is a tremendous achievement."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News