PORT HOPE – Cameco has the green light to move ahead with repairs and upgrades at its uranium hexafluoride (UF6) plant, said a senior company official.
On Jan. 28, Andy Oliver, vice-president of Cameco’s fuel services division, announced the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) has granted permission for the company to move forward with corrective reconstruction measures inside Building 50, the UF6 plant. Mr. Oliver made the announcement to a gallery of 80 people who attended a community forum held at the Carpenter’s Union Hall in Port Hope Monday evening.
“While we’re finally on the path forward to restart UF6 production, we’re still a number of months away,” he said. “Cameco has set a target of resuming UF6 production in the third quarter of 2008.”
Cameco suspended UF6 production in July 2007 after uranium and other production-related chemicals were discovered under Building 50, he explained. Since that time, the company has been investigating the source of the problem and has developed plans to correct any deficiencies in operations or management practices, he noted.
Most of the plant’s concrete floor and 40 per cent (to a depth of two feet) of the soil under the building has already been removed, Mr. Oliver said. With CNSC approval in hand, next steps include pouring a new concrete floor, adding leak-proof surface coatings and re-installing equipment. The removed soil and concrete is being stored on-site in drums until arrangements are made to transport the material to a secure environmental management facility in the United States, he added.
Mr. Oliver noted a more specific restart timetable will be provided once construction schedules are finalized and contractor availability is confirmed. To date, Cameco has avoided lay-offs at the plant; although the recent CNSC approval has significantly reduced the likelihood of lay-offs, Mr. Oliver said he could not guarantee the same for the future.
Future plans also include installation of a groundwater management system outside the UF6 plant to contain, recover and treat affected groundwater, he said. However, the company needs regulatory approval for the system’s design, installation and operation before it can be commissioned.
In addition, the company must complete and receive approval for a comprehensive risk assessment to identify contaminants that could pose a potential risk to the environment, and verify the selected treatment methods and technology will effectively mitigate the potential risks, explained Mr. Oliver.
“I want to emphasize that, based on a preliminary risk assessment and the low concentrations of contaminants in the soil and groundwater outside the footprint of the UF6 plant, the health and safety of employees and the public have not been, and will not be, adversely affected,” he concluded.