Cameco closer to UF6 plant restart

PORT HOPE, ONTARIO - Cameco is targeting month-end February 2008 for the reopening of its uranium hexaflouride (UF6) plant in Port Hope. It’s a “best estimates” date, Andy Oliver, vice president of Cameco’s fuel services division said recently.

Before that happens, the company’s rehabilitation plans for the interior of the UF6 plant must be approved by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Cameco filed its rehab report with CNSC Oct. 31.

In addition, engineering design must be completed, materials and services procured and the physical work completed.

No new construction or installation work within the UF6 building will begin until CNSC approvals are received, Mr.

Oliver said.

Plans call for “a significant amount of concrete work to be done” within the building to prevent future leaks or subsurface contamination. Floors, trenches and sumps will be refurbished or replaced. Surfaces and coatings will be applied to prevent future seepage.

If the approvals come through, Cameco anticipates being able to draw on contractors within Northumberland County for much of the work.

The plant has been closed since July 19 when uranium and other evidence of production-associated chemicals were found in soil beneath the plant.

Since then, Cameco discovered traces of uranium in groundwater in one of four test wells dug beyond the UF6 plant. Results from a first test well indicated 0.31 milligrams of uranium per litre of groundwater, a reading higher than the historic 0.1 milligrams of uranium recorded.

This week, with three additional wells drilled, one well was dry (no test result). Groundwater from the two other wells, on either side of the first well reported, has uranium levels in the historic 0.1 milligram per litre level. That, Cameco says, indicates a “plume”, or path, of groundwater seepage from the plant. The interim plan is to contain the “plume” by pumping the drilled wells.

Within the past week, Cameco filed two reports for environmental management of the groundwater contamination on an interim and long-term basis. (Technically, the CNSC has no standard for groundwater contamination that requires action, Cameco spokespeople said).

The CNSC approval for remedial work within the UF6 plant is not contingent on the external, environmental plans, Mr. Oliver said.

“The past three and a half months have been a challenging time for employees at the conversion facility and I am very grateful for their support and cooperation,” Mr. Oliver said. “A lot of work has been done to investigate this situation, to identify the most technically sound ways to address the subsurface contamination and to ensure that issues identified during the investigation are resolved.

“Although we still have a tremendous amount of work to do, we can finally see a clear path forward that will take us to our goal; of restarting UF6 production.”


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