Uranium fuel supplier Cameco will place its UF6 plant at the Port Hope conversion facility, in Ontario, in a temporary safe shutdown state for four weeks, as it faces difficulty in maintaining an adequate workforce as a result of screening protocols and other measures put in place to combat 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,” Cameco president and CEO Tim Gitzel said on Tuesday.
“The UF6 plant is designed for continuous operation, and we need to prevent unplanned interruptions arising from personnel shortages.”
Work to place the plant in safe shutdown mode would occur over the coming days. The company said, where possible, it would bring forward maintenance work scheduled for the summer.
Since the majority of the UO3 produced at the Blind River refinery is used to produce UF6 at the conversion facility, the refinery’s production would also be temporarily suspended and, where possible, summer maintenance work brought forward.
The refinery would operate for about a week to produce sufficient UO3 for ongoing UO2 production at the conversion facility. Then, the refinery would be placed in a care and maintenance for about four weeks.
The refinery would remain open to receive uranium concentrate deliveries.
The conversion facility would continue to operate with its reduced workforce, currently reduced by about 65 employees, and the refinery would 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 (CFM) would continue. The UO2 and CFM facilities are important links in the supply chain for Canada’s nuclear energy sector, and these plants were designed and operated to shut down and start up every week. Although they may experience workforce fluctuations as a result of the ongoing circumstances, they were better able to adapt quickly to changes in staffing levels and more frequent starts and stops in production if required.
“Cameco will continue to work with all of our customers to help meet their delivery needs and enable them to continue to provide the safe, clean, reliable nuclear power their governments and communities rely on to run hospitals, care homes, grocery stores and essential services during this time of extraordinary uncertainty,” Gitzel said.