Cameco to temporarily shut down Cigar Lake mine due to COVID-19 concerns

Saskatchewan-based uranium company Cameco says it will be temporarily shutting down operations at its Cigar Lake mine as it deals with issues related to COVID-19.

Uranium mining company reopened mine in Sept. after previous COVID worries

Cameco's Cigar Lake mine will be temporarily closed due to concerns over COVID-19. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan-based uranium company Cameco says it will be temporarily shutting down operations at its Cigar Lake mine as it deals with issues related to COVID-19.

The company said there have been six positive cases of COVID-19 at its northern operations in the last few weeks, including three cases at Cigar Lake. 

While it said it has been able to manage those cases, it's concerned about a lack of qualified personnel to run the mine.

"The safety of our workers, their families and communities is our top priority," said Cameco President and CEO Tim Gitzel in a news release.

"One of the most challenging trends we've had to navigate is the shrinking availability of workers in critical roles at Cigar Lake due to self-isolations, absenteeism and communities being on temporary pause for transporting workers due to the pandemic."

The Cigar Lake mine was shut down in March due to COVID-19 worries, but was reopened in September.

Cameco said there were about 300 workers on-site at Cigar Lake at the peak of production this fall. 

The company said there would be no layoffs, and that employees would be on a combination of paid leave and usage of vacation days.

It's still not clear how long the mine will be closed, although the company said it would be closed "over the coming weeks."

The company said any restart will depend on available workforce, how cases are trending in Saskatchewan — especially the north — and the opinion of public health authorities.

The mine will be placed in care and maintenance and is expected to cost the company $8 million to $10 million for every month it is closed.

The temporary shutdown will also interfere with the company's estimated production this year of 5.3 million pounds of uranium. 

"Due to the suspension, we plan to increase our purchases in the market to secure uranium we need to meet our sales commitments," said Gitzel.

"COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, including that the pandemic is a greater risk to uranium supply than to uranium demand."

The company said its cash balances were enough to pay for 2020 and it did not expect to have to draw on credit.

The Cigar Lake operation is owned by Cameco (50.025 per cent), Orano Canada Inc. (37.1 per cent), Idemitsu Canada Resources Ltd. (7.875 per cent) and TEPCO Resources Inc. (5.0 per cent) and is operated by Cameco.

(CBC News Graphics)

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