PORT HOPE – Due to a shortage of uranium fluoride (HF), production at Cameco’s Port Hope uranium hexaflouride (UF6) plant could grind to a halt by the end of the month.
The total Port Hope operations employs over 450 people; however the number of people facing long-term temporary layoff is unknown at this time, said Cameco communications spokesman, Doug Prendergast.
“Since most of the Port Hope operation supports UF6 production – purchasing and engineering as examples – it is unknown at the time exactly how many employees could be affected,” said Mr. Prendergast.
The pending plant shutdown stems from an ongoing contractual dispute with Cameco’s current American-based HF supplier.
According to the company’s third quarter earnings report released Nov. 11, Cameco is receiving HF on a spot basis, “which is both expensive and uncertain.”
Mr. Prendergast said the company has enough HF on hand and on order to last through the end of November.
At that point, assuming nothing new surfaces, the company may be forced to shut down the plant until it secures a reliable and affordable HF supply.
He noted the company is still in talks with its current U.S. supplier and added there are also other suppliers overseas. Employees have been kept up-to-date on the HF supply problem and he added the company notified employees this afternoon about the possibility of a long-term shutdown.
“We continue to look for a longer term solution (for the supply problem), but right now, it is discouraging,” he said.
Even if the company was to find a supplier and sign the contract today, it would likely take until mid-2009 to resolve transportation logistics, said Mr. Prendergast.
Lyle Krahn, director of external affairs with Cameco’s Saskatoon-based headquarters, said there is a possibility of a workforce reduction but, to date, nothing is finalized.
“If there is a reduction, it is regrettable since our employees do good at the plant and in the community,” said Mr. Krahn.
The UF6 plant went back into operation at the end of September after a 14-month shutdown.
In July 2007, Cameco workers uncovered sub-surface uranium contamination during a scheduled replacement of a cooling water tank under Building 50, the UF6 plant.
The company halted UF6 production on July 19, 2007.