Cameco suspends UF6 production

28 November 2008

Cameco has announced that it has suspended production at its uranium hexafluoride (UF6) plant in Port Hope, Ontario, until the second half of 2009.

Port Hope 
Port Hope (Image: Cameco)
The company said that a previously announced contract dispute with its sole supplier of hydrofluoric acid (HF) - used in the production of UF6 - has "remained unresolved." It said that the dispute had resulted in "unreliable and expensive deliveries" of the material and that Cameco has now exhausted the inventory of HF it had purchased on a spot basis.

Cameco said that it is trying to resolve the dispute with the current supplier in addition to finding alternative sources of HF. The company has decided to suspend uranium conversion operations at Port Hope until the second half of 2009, but still anticipates meeting UF6 deliveries to customers during the first half of the year.

Cameco said that the suspension of UF6 production at Port Hope will result in up to 100 of the 440 staff at the conversion plant being laid off. Operations at its uranium dioxide (UO2) plant at Port Hope have not been impacted, the company said.

Cameco voluntarily suspended operations at the UF6 plant in July 2007 after it was discovered that production chemicals - including some uranium - had leaked through the floor of the plant into soil and groundwater. It was quickly determined that the chemicals had not travelled beyond the site boundary.

The company resumed UF6 production in October 2008. However, at the time, Cameco said that it had sufficient HF to resume operations at a reduced rate that will allow production to continue for about one month.

At Port Hope, shipments of uranium concentrate powder (U3O8) are converted in a chemical process to gaseous UF6 ready for enrichment at facilities around the world. It is the only such facility in Canada. Cameco also operates a plant at Port Hope for converting U3O8 into uranium dioxide (UO2) powder at natural levels of enrichment for use a fuel in Canada's Candu nuclear power reactors.