Canada’s Cameco announced that it is resuming production at its Port Hope Conversion Facility’s UF6 plant and its Blind River Refinery in Ontario. Both operations are planned to restart the week of 18 May and to achieve regular production levels the week of 25 May.
On 8 April, Cameco announced that the facilities would be placed in a temporary safe shutdown state for around four weeks and, where possible, maintenance work scheduled for the summer would be advanced.
At the time it said that screening protocols and other measures put in place to align with government and public health directives around Covid-19 were contributing to workforce uncertainty at the UF6 plant, which is designed to run as a continuous process without interruption. The decision was therefore made to suspend production at the plant, as well as at the Blind River Refinery, since the majority of the UO3 produced there is used in the production of UF6 at Port Hope.
Cameco said the workforce situation has now stabilised, providing increased certainty around the availability of necessary personnel to operate the UF6 plant.
“With the appropriate conditions currently in place to resume normal operations, we have decided to return both the plant and the refinery to production.”
Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel said: “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."
"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.”
During the temporary shutdown of the two sites, Cameco’s other Ontario operations, including UO2 production at Port Hope and fuel bundle production at Cameco Fuel Manufacturing, continued to operate.
Given the evolving nature of the Covid-19 situation and the number of moving pieces, on 13 April 2020 Cameco withdrew its 2020 outlook for its fuel services division, including production. “We do not expect to resume providing outlook information until we have a sufficient basis to do so,” the company noted.
As yet there is no change in the status of Cameco’s Cigar Lake uranium mine. 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 it continues to closely monitor the situation around all of its facilities and follow the guidance of government and public health authorities. “Significant safety measures to limit the risk posed by Covid-19 remain in place across our operations, and we will move quickly to adjust our plans should circumstances warrant to ensure the well-being of our workers, their families and communities.”
Cameco sounded a note of caution about forward-looking information and statements “which can change significantly, and actual results and events may be significantly different from what we currently expect”.
Examples of forward-looking information in the latest statement include: “our plans to restart production at our Port Hope Conversion Facility’s UF6 plant and Blind River Refinery in Ontario the week of May 18, 2020 and to achieve regular production levels the week of May 25, 2020; our views on the stability of the workforce situation, the availability of necessary personnel to operate the UF6 plant, and our ability to maintain the required roster of qualified operators to run the UF6 plant going forward and to carefully bring the plant and the UO3 refinery back into production; and our expectation to resume providing outlook information when we have a sufficient basis to do so.”
Cameco said that in presenting forward-looking information, “we have made material assumptions which may prove incorrect, including assumptions regarding our ability to successfully manage the current uncertain environment resulting from Covid-19 and its related operational, safety, regulatory, marketing and financial risks successfully”.