Coronavirus: Cameco suspending uranium fuel operations at Ontario facilities

Cameco, one of the world’s largest publicly traded uranium companies, will be suspending operations at its facilities in Ontario due to “increasing” challenges of maintaining an adequate workforce as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a company statement issued Wednesday, Cameco said its uranium hexafluoride (UF6) plant at the Port Hope conversion facility and the uranium trioxide (UO3) refinery in Blind River will both be temporarily suspended. Where possible, maintenance work scheduled for the summer will be advanced, Cameco stated.

In Port Hope, within the “coming days” the facility will be placed in a “temporary safe shutdown” for four weeks, the company said.

UF6 is used in the process of enriching uranium, which produces fuel. Cameco says its Port Hope plant is currently operating safely; however, the company says COVID-19-related screening protocols and other established health measures from government and public health authorities have created “significant difficulty” in achieving the required workforce levels for the facility to continue operation.

The company says the Port Hope operation’s workforce has been reduced by 65 employees. There are also concerns about maintaining the required workforce level since “the UF6 plant is a complex operation, designed to run as a continuous process without interruptions in production,” the company says.

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At the Blind River refinery, the UO3 produced is used at the Port Hope conversion facility. The refinery will operate for about a week to produce sufficient UO3 for ongoing uranium dioxide (UO2 production at the conversion facility. Then, the refinery will be placed in a safe state of “care and maintenance” for approximately four weeks.

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