First Cigar Lake uranium processed

09 October 2014

The first uranium ore from the Cigar Lake mine has been processed at the McClean Lake mill after its facilities were modified to enable processing of the high-grade uranium ore. Both facilities are in northern Saskatechewan, Canada.

Ore from Cigar Lake arrives at the McClean Lake mill (Image: Cameco)

Mining at Cigar Lake began in March, the culmination of a nine-year development project which saw operator Cameco face the challenges of mining the world's second largest high-grade uranium deposit. The sandy soil hosting the orebody is frozen prior to mining, preventing water inflow and improving radiation protection. The ore is removed by a jet boring system using water under high pressure, and the resulting ore slurry is piped to underground grinding and thickening circuits before being pumped to the surface. At the surface, the slurry is loaded into special containers for its 70 km journey by road to the McClean Lake mill.

The mill's majority owner, Areva Resources Canada, and its partners began a $150 million upgrade program in 2012 that increased its capacity to enable it to process Cigar Lake ore. The mill is now the only facility in the world designed to process high-grade uranium without dilution. So far, 1400 tonnes of Cigar Lake ore has been delivered to the mill, which is expected to produce 1 million pounds U3O8 (385 tU) in 2014, ramping up to 18 million pounds U3O8 (6924 tU) by 2018.

"Cigar Lake is a major technological achievement in terms of the ground-freezing and the remote-controlled jet boring techniques representing state-of-the-art in terms of health and safety of the workforce, and is the first major new conventional mine to open since Langer Heinrich in 2006," Ian Emsley, senior project manager at the World Nuclear Association, said.

The mine secures Cameco's future supply capacity as the Rabbit Lake mine is expected to run down. "Production will be ramped-up at a measured pace taking account of the current delicate state of the uranium market," Emsley said.

Areva Mining Business Group senior vice president Olivier Wantz said the start of production at the McClean Lake mill represented a "strategic investment" for the Areva's mining business.

Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel congratulated all those involved in bringing Cigar Lake - which he described as one of the world's "most technically challenging" orebodies - into production.

Cigar Lake is owned by Cameco (50.25%), Areva Resources Canada (37.1%), Idemitsu Canada Resources (7.875%) and Tepco Resources (5.0%), and is operated by Cameco. The McClean Lake Mill is owned by Areva Resources Canada (70%), Denison Mines (22.5%) and OURD Canada (7.5%), and is operated by Areva.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News