By KELLY LOUISEIZE
When the big mining players are looking for top-notch mine design, they know whose kitchen they’re in.
Thunder Bay-based Cook Engineering has been involved in structural mine development for companies such as Falconbridge Ltd. since 1962.
They design and engineer mine hoists, headframes, ventilation and material-handling systems for ore production, and have done everything from engineeringa concrete barrier down a shaft to working on Canada’s prolific uranium deposits.
“We are pretty well recognized by the big players,” says Chris Dougherty, the firm’s managing director of the mining division.
Cook supplied the lead design engineers for the A and B shafts at Williams Mine, as well as the Eagle River, Lockerby and Campbell Mine shafts. In
the early 1970s the company developed the headframes at the Falconbridge Kidd Creek Mine and Lockerby Mine.
So it was a natural progression to take part in installing the infrastructure for the world’s second-largest high-grade uranium deposit after the McArthur River (which they were also involved in).
The Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan project is a joint venture between Comeco Inc. COGEMA Resources, Idemitsu Uranium Exploration Canada Ltd. and TEPCO Resources Inc. It is rumoured that it will be one of the most automated mines in world, with vested companies having already spent approximately $500 million in research and development. Cook engineers designed a 550-metre split shaft for the mine with a concrete dividing wall extending the length of the shaft. This is unique to Canada.
“Everything will be done remotely; you can’t have anybody in direct contact because (the deposit) is so radioactive.” Workers directing the tele-operated equipment are based 50 metres below the ore deposit.
All of the uranium deposits are located in the Athabasca Basin, which is a large, porous sandstone structure full of water. At the Cigar Lake project, the six-metre uranium orebody is sandwiched between the sandstone and the bedrock below. One cannot work within the sandstone because it is essentially an underground ocean, according to Dougherty. Workers had to freeze the sandstone and the orebody with a super salt solution at about -10 degrees Celsius for four months, then bore into it.
“You have to build a frozen halo around the orebody, which allows the (miners) to work through it.”
The mine is expected to be in full production by 2007.
Most North American mines these days are heavily automated, to keep production high and costs low. But places such as China still have a long way to go. With cautious optimism, Dougherty is pursuing interests in China with regard to mining structures. China right now is where Canada was in the 1920s, he says. But he is hesitant to share too much information for fear of “giving away the store.”
A typical Cook year would count approximately 35 per cent of revenues from the mining business and an estimated 40 per cent from export projects. Mongolia and Bulgaria have become frequent clients and the aim in the next few years will be to explore more opportunities in South America and back home.