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Cameco puts Blind River uranium refinery on four-week hiatus

Pandemic protocols make it difficult to put a workforce on the floor
Cameco Blind River refinery
Workers move drums of uranium concentrates received from all over the world at the Blind River Refinery. (Cameco photo)

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing a four-week shutdown of Cameco’s Blind River refinery in northeastern Ontario.

In a news release, Cameco said directives from government and public health authorities make it difficult to maintain an adequate workforce as a result of the screening protocols and other measures put in place.

Saskatoon-based Cameco is one of the largest global providers of fuel needed for nuclear reactors.

The Blind River refinery is located halfway between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury on the north shore of Lake Huron.

Considered the world’s largest commercial uranium refinery, Blind River handles uranium ore concentrates shipped there from mines in Canada, the U.S. and Australia.

The plant produces a semi-refined product called uranium trioxide (UO3) which is then shipped to Cameco’s Port Hope conversion facility for further processing into uranium hexafluoride (UF6).

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The Port Hope plant will also be placed on a four-week shutdown since most of the UO3 feed for that plant comes from Blind River.

Blind River will operate for about a week to produce sufficient UO3 for production at Port Hope then will go into care and maintenance for four weeks. The operation will remain open to receive uranium concentrate deliveries.

“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 (Port Hope) plant,” said Cameco president-CEO Tim Gitzel on April 8.

“The UF6 plant is designed for continuous operation, and we need to prevent unplanned interruptions arising from personnel shortages. Therefore, after weighing many factors, including the state of the pandemic, we made a measured decision to suspend production in a careful, planned manner at the UF6 plant and the UO3 (Blind River) refinery which feeds it.

"We will watch closely how the situation evolves over the next four weeks before making further decisions.”