Production to restart again at Port Hope

20 May 2009

A new chemical supply agreement for Cameco's Port Hope conversion plant should see the facility back for good after a series of interruptions amounting to around two years.


Port Hope
Cylinders for the transport of uranium
hexafluoride alongside the Port Hope
conversion facility
Cameco's uranium conversion business at Port Hope has suffered a series of problems since the July 2007 discovery that certain chemicals containing uranium were present underneath one of the plant buildings. The plant was shut down on a voluntary basis while Cameco dealt with the localised contamination, but the issue had no effect on the uranium dioxide plant also present on-site.


However, during the shutdown, Cameco ran into problems with its sole supplier of hydrofluoric acid, which is essential for the conversion of powdered uranium oxide to gaseous uranium hexafluoride suitable for enrichment. When the plant was ready for restart in the fourth quarter of 2008, it could only operate for around one month, relying on acid stocks already held.


Cameco has now announced that it has a new supply contract with the original company which will allow production to recommence for the long term. Preparations are underway and the Port Hope conversion plant is expected to come back into action "in the third quarter of 2009," Cameco said, adding that it was planning to recall 25 workers laid off during the problems.


The new contract with its main supplier is "mutually beneficial," Cameco said, but it would "continue to negotiate with other suppliers to broaden and diversify its supply base." Additional contracts are expected in the near future.


Although these problems were no doubt infuriating for Cameco, the company said it was able to meet its customers needs through inventory, delivery deferrals, a supply agreement with the Springfields plant in the UK and "limited" purchases of conversion services from other firms.


The remediation of the Port Hope chemicals and improvements to the plant buildings now relate to a wider plan for the site named Cameco Vision 2010. The program should clear away more than 150,000 cubic metres of inherited wastes, remove more than 20 buildings and improve the overall look of the site, which has been an area of heavy industry for many years.