Cameco suspends production at Cigar Lake Mine due to COVID-19 threat

Cameco will temporarily suspend production at its Cigar Lake Mine in Northern Saskatchewan for the next four weeks due to the threat posed by the Coronavirus.

The facility typically has roughly 300 employees working at any given time. None of its employees have tested positive for the virus, the company reported on Monday.

A team of roughly 35 people will remain on site to provide safety and maintenance during the shutdown. Cameco has not determined when they will restart production.

“We are in unprecedented and challenging times,” president and CEO Tim Gitzel said in a media release. “In the face of great uncertainty, our first priority is to protect the health and well-being of our employees, their families and their communities.”

Gitzel said it was difficult for the company to maintain the strict social distancing policies while keeping the mine running, especially since it’s a fly-in, fly-out location. Concerns among northern leaders in remote and isolated communities also influenced the decision.

The Cameco CEO added that it’s too soon to say what the financial impact will be to the company, although he was confident they could withstand significant hardships.

“We have the tools we need to deal with the current uncertain environment,” he said. “We have a deliberate strategy to build long-term value and have been executing it in a disciplined fashion on three fronts – operational, marketing and financial. As a result, our balance sheet is strong and we are well-positioned to self-manage risk.”

Cameco is one of the largest providers of uranium fuel in the world. The company plans to continue operating its fuel services division in Ontario as long as it remains safe.

“We will work with our customers to help meet their delivery needs and enable them to continue to provide the 24-hour nuclear power their governments and communities will need to rely on to run hospitals, care facilities, clinics and communities during this time of extraordinary uncertainty,” Gitzel said.

Company officials say they will consult with public health authorities before developing a plan to move workers safely off the Cigar Lake site and back to their home communities.

Cigar Lake was commissioned in 2014 and is one of the highest-grade uranium mines in the world.

Cameco owns just over 50 per cent of the Cigar Lake Mine operation. Orano Canada Inc., who owns the second largest stake at 37.1 per cent, also supported the decision to suspend production.

“We are all in this together,” president and CEO Jim Corman said in a media release. “Our operations work in tandem, and our communities are all interconnected. This is a difficult time for many and we understand the concerns we are hearing.”

Orano has also suspended production at its McCLean Lake Mill operation, which is also located in Northern Saskatchewan. The mill processes ore from the Cigar Lake Mine, and has roughly 160 employees on site at one time. Around 50 employees will be left on site to carry out monitoring and maintenance activities during the shutdown.

As with the Cigar Lake Mine, Orano said it was too difficult to keep the McClean Lake Mill open while maintaining strict physical distancing measures. The shutdown is expected to last at least four weeks. The company has not announced a restart date.

“This is a difficult time for many and we understand the concerns we are hearing,” Corman said. “McClean Lake will safely be put into care and maintenance within the next few days and we will continue to assess the situation, always keeping health and safety at the forefront.”