Cameco to resume operation of Ontario facilities

11 May 2020

Canadian uranium producer Cameco will next week resume production at its Port Hope Conversion Facility's uranium hexafluoride (UF6) plant and its Blind River Refinery in Ontario. The Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan, in which it holds a majority stake, will remain in care and maintenance.

The Port Hope uranium conversion facility (Image: Cameco)

On 8 April, Cameco announced a number of temporary operational changes it was implementing at its fuel services division facilities in Ontario. The changes were due to the "increasing challenge" of maintaining an adequate workforce as a result of screening protocols and other measures put in place to align with the directives and guidance of government and public health authorities for the COVID-19 health crisis, it said.

At that time, Cameco said the UF6 plant at the Port Hope Conversion Facility would be placed in a temporary safe shutdown state for about four weeks and, where possible, maintenance work scheduled for the summer would be advanced. Since the majority of the uranium trioxide (UO3) produced at the Blind River Refinery is used to produce UF6 at the conversion facility, the refinery's production was also temporarily suspended and, where possible, summer maintenance work brought forward. Uranium dioxide (UO2) production at the conversion facility, as well as fuel pellet and fuel bundle production at Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Inc has continued.

Cameco announced today that operations at both the Port Hope Conversion Facility's UF6 plant and the Blind River Refinery are planned to restart the week of 18 May and achieve regular production levels the week of 25 May.

"The workforce situation has now stabilised, providing Cameco with increased certainty around the availability of necessary personnel to operate the UF6 plant," the company said. "With the appropriate conditions currently in place to resume normal operations, we have decided to return both the plant and the refinery to production."

"The provinces and communities where we operate are certainly not out of the woods when it comes to this global pandemic, and we must remain vigilant in how we manage our activities during these challenging times," said Cameco President and CEO Tim Gitzel. "However, we are confident that we can maintain the required roster of qualified operators to run the UF6 plant going forward, enabling us to carefully bring the plant and the UO3 refinery back into production."

The company noted there is no change in the status of the Cigar Lake uranium mine. Cigar Lake is owned by Cameco (50.025%), Orano Canada Inc (37.1%), Idemitsu Canada Resources Ltd. (7.875%) and TEPCO Resources Inc (5.0%), and is operated by Cameco. Saskatoon-based Cameco on 23 March put Cigar Lake on care and maintenance for an initial period of four weeks. However, in mid-April, it said the Cigar Lake workforce will need to remain at its current reduced level for a longer duration. "The operation remains in a safe state of care and maintenance for an indeterminate duration, as pandemic conditions continue to challenge a number of northern Saskatchewan communities," Cameco said today.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News