Canada’s Cameco and Orano Canada on 9 April both announced plans to resume uranium production. Cameco said that it plans to restart production at its Cigar Lake uranium mine located in northern Saskatchewan. Production at Cigar Lake was temporarily suspended in December 2020 due to increasing risks posed by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At that time, the availability of workers in critical areas was shrinking due to the pandemic, with more individuals screening out or residing in communities with pandemic-related travel restrictions.
“The safety of our workers, their families and communities is always our top priority,” said Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel. “In recent months we have implemented several enhanced safety protocols for Cigar Lake, including increased distancing between passengers on flights, mandatory medical-grade masks for all workers and increased sanitisation and physical barriers in our eating areas. We also worked with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and have established a licensed COVID-19 testing facility at the mine site. These further safety measures, along with the provincial vaccine rollout programme and increased confidence around our ability to manage our critical workforce, have given us greater certainty that Cigar Lake will be able to operate safely and sustainably.”
Cameco said the timing of production restart and the production rate at Cigar Lake will depend on how quickly it is possible to remobilise the workforce. “Cameco will not be in a position to provide updates to our outlook for 2021 until production has resumed and we understand the rate at which we will be able to sustainably operate the mine, it said.
Gitzel said Cameco always intended to resume production. “There are significant costs associated with having the mine in temporary care and maintenance, and we have a home in our contract portfolio for these low-cost pounds. We will also continue to purchase material, as needed, to meet our committed deliveries. Having said that, worker health and safety is our top priority, and we will not hesitate to take further action if we feel our ability to operate safely is compromised due to the pandemic.”
Cameco said its strong balance sheet has provided the company with the financial capacity to successfully manage the production disruption at Cigar Lake. As of 31 December 2020, Cameco had $943 million in cash and short-term investments and a $1 billion undrawn credit facility. The Cigar Lake operation is owned by Cameco (50.025%), Orano Canada (37.1%), Idemitsu Canada Resources Ltd (7.875%) and Tepco Resources (5.0%). It is operated by Cameco.
Orano Canada said it will resume production at its McClean Lake uranium mill over the coming weeks in tandem with the announced restart of production at the Cigar Lake uranium mine. Production has been paused at McClean Lake since late December, “but the operation has maintained its staffing levels to minimise disruption to our employees while performing maintenance, training and preparations to enable a smooth restart of the mill”, Orano said.
“I am pleased with the restart of production at the Cigar Lake mine and McClean Lake mill,” said Orano Canada President and CEO Jim Corman. “We are encouraged to see that the vaccine roll out in northern Saskatchewan specifically is having a real impact and that the pace of vaccinations throughout the Province is accelerating.
“Safety remains our utmost priority and we have been proud to continue to offer a safe workplace over this difficult year.”
Orano Canada accounted for the processing of 10 million pounds of uranium concentrate produced in Canada in 2020. Orano Canada has been exploring for uranium, mining and milling in Canada for more than 55 years. It is the operator of the McClean Lake uranium mill and a major partner in the Cigar Lake, McArthur River and Key Lake operations. The company employs over 450 people in Saskatchewan, including about 320 at the McClean Lake operation where over 46% of employees are self-declared Indigenous. Orano Canada is a subsidiary of the multinational Orano group.