Cameco surprised by Port Hope chemicals

23 July 2007

Uranium and other chemicals have been found in the soil beneath a building at the Port Hope conversion plant.

At Port Hope, Ontario, shipments of uranium concentrate powder (U3O8) are converted in a chemical process to gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) ready for enrichment at facilities around the world. It is the only such facility in Canada.

Cameco have said that chemicals used in the process - including some uranium - were detected in soil during construction work. Because the contaminants were found within a controlled area Cameco said: "public health and worker safety are not affected."

The company's response to the find has been to halt work at the UF6 plant until the source of the contaminants has been identified, and take readings from groundwater sampling points around the edge of the site.

Groundwater samples are taken every four months and reported to regulators every year. The last samples, taken in April, did not show any abnormalities.

The affected area is about 70 m from the edge of the plant property whereas Cameco said that the groundwater flow rate was 40-60 m per year. "This provides ample time to address, contain and mitigate the affected area," said the firm.

Nevertheless, the outage for investigation at the UF6 plant is expected to last for at least two months, during which workers would be assigned other duties.
Cameco said it could meet scheduled deliveries from existing inventory. It has not yet revised production forecasts or calculated the potential cost of the stoppage.

Port Hope also converts U308 into uranium dioxide (UO2) powder at natural levels of enrichment for use a fuel in Canada's Candu nuclear power reactors. These operations would not stop during this time.

Further information


WNA's The Nuclear Fuel Cycle information paper