It's taken two years of work and $64 million, but Cameco says it's learned some valuable lessons fixing its flooded uranium mine at Cigar Lake.
Water has been pumped out of the underground mine in northern Saskatchewan, and if everything goes according to plan, the mine will be open and in production in mid-2013, the Saskatoon-based company says.
Cameco president Jerry Grandey said this week there'll be no repeat of the scenario that caused the company's showcase mine to flood in 2008.
For one, Cameco will have enough of the right kind pumps underground to handle any future flooding. It plans to increase its pumping capacity this year to 2,500 cubic metres per hour — the equivalent of one Olympic-sized swimming pool per hour.
"We'll have double the amount of pumping capacity than we would anticipate would ever be needed," Grandey said. "And we hope it would never be needed."
Meanwhile, even with the immediate problem out of the way, Cigar Lake and its sister mine at McArthur River are presenting unique engineering challenges.
The ore bodies contain the world's richest deposits of uranium, but to reach them, miners must drill through water-saturated sandstone.
They're doing that by freezing the rock around the uranium.
"Instead of developing so close to water-saturated sandstone, we will take the tunnels lower to create a greater margin of safety between where the tunnel and mine development is and that sandstone," Grandey explained.
Cameco finally drained the last of the water in February. Workers have been underground since then, cleaning up and taking a look at what needs to be done.
The company says it expects Cigar Lake to be a key part of its plan to double its annual uranium production to about 18 million kilograms by 2018.
Grandey spoke to the media at the company's annual meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday.