Hope ahead for Cameco’s conversion plant

24 September 2008

Cameco has announced that it plans to restart production at its uranium hexafluoride (UF6) production plant in Port Hope, having resolved the issue of underground leaks discovered last year.

On 12 September Andy Oliver, vice president of Cameco’s fuel services division, said that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) had accepted Cameco’s plans to restart UF6 production. He said that the plant is expected to begin operation in the “next several days,” however since the plant has been shutdown for over a year, Cameco is “following a cautious, thorough approach to restart in order to ensure it happens properly and safely.”

In July 2007, Cameco voluntarily suspended operations within the plant to investigate the cause of the leaks, which led to chemicals, including uranium, seeping through the floor of the plant into soil and groundwater. Since then, the company said it has combined extensive groundwater control measures with major repairs and improvements to its plant that are intended to prevent uranium and other production-related chemicals from spreading further and to ensure there are no underground leaks in the future. These improvements included the replacement of large sections of the ground floor, application of chemical-resistant coatings to all floors, and the removal of some contaminated soil from beneath the building.

Total remediation costs are expected to be C$50-55 million ($47-52 million). This estimate includes costs for investigating the cause and effects of the subsurface leakage, rehabilitation of the plant and installation of a system of wells that collect impacted groundwater in the vicinity of the plant and between the plant and the harbour.

Cameco also reported that it is developing a comprehensive programme to address other subsurface contamination that is the legacy from about 150 years of various industries operating on the site that Cameco now occupies. An important part of that plan will be Cameco’s multi-year site cleanup and modernisation project, known as Vision 2010. The project, which includes removing up to 150,000m3 of contaminated soil, building materials and stored historic waste, is currently undergoing an environmental assessment.

Cameco said it has sufficient hydrofluoric acid (HF) to resume operations at a reduced rate that will allow production to continue for about a month. Cameco’s sole supplier of HF has terminated its long-term supply contract with the company, which is now seeking alternative supply sources.

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