Canadian uranium producer Cameco is placing the UF6 plant at its Port Hope conversion facility in Ontario in safe shutdown for approximately four weeks due to the “increasing challenge" of maintaining an adequate workforce during the Covid-19 health crisis.

 “While our fuel services facilities have been able to operate safely, it has become increasingly challenging to maintain a sufficient roster of qualified operators for the UF6 plant,” said Tim Gitzel, Cameco president and CEO. “The UF6 plant is designed for continuous operation, and we need to prevent unplanned interruptions arising from personnel shortages.”

“Therefore, after weighing many factors, including the state of the pandemic, we made a measured decision to suspend production in a careful, planned manner at the UF6 plant and the UO3 refinery which feeds it.”

Cameco said work to place the Port Hope plant in safe shutdown mode would take place over the coming days.

The Blind River refinery will operate for about a week to produce sufficient UO3 for on-going UO2 production at the conversion facility before being placed in care and maintenance for approximately four weeks. However, Cameco said the refinery would remain open to receive uranium concentrate deliveries.

Maintenance work scheduled for the summer will be brought forward at both Port Hope and Blind River “where possible.”

Cameco said the conversion facility will continue to operate with a reduced workforce, currently reduced by about 65 employees, and the refinery will experience a reduction of about 60 employees.

UO2 production at the conversion facility, as well as fuel pellet and fuel bundle production at Cameco Fuel Manufacturing Inc. (CFM) will continue.

”Although they may experience workforce fluctuations as a result of the ongoing circumstances, they are better able to adapt quickly to changes in staffing levels and more frequent starts and stops in production if required,” Cameco said.

Photo: Inside Port Hope UF6 plant (Credit: Cameco)