Cameco halts conversion facility in Ontario

A uranium hexafluoride cylinder loaded for shipping at Cameco's conversion facility in Port Hope, Ontario. Credit: CamecoA uranium hexafluoride cylinder loaded for shipping at Cameco's conversion facility in Port Hope, Ontario. Credit: Cameco.

Canada’s Cameco (TSX: CCO; NYSE: CCJ), the world’s largest publicly traded uranium miner, is placing its plant at the Port Hope conversion facility in Ontario in a temporary safe shutdown state for four weeks.

The move comes as the company faces the increasing challenge of maintaining an adequate workforce as a result of screening protocols and other measures put in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the majority of the UO3 produced at the Blind River refinery is used to produce UF6 at the conversion facility, the refinery’s production would also be temporarily suspended and, where possible, summer maintenance work brought forward.

“The UF6 plant is designed for continuous operation, and we need to prevent unplanned interruptions arising from personnel shortages,” president and chief executive Tim Gitzel said on Wednesday.

While production at the refinery is temporarily suspended, the operation will remain open to receive uranium concentrate deliveries, Cameco said.

The news comes a day after uranium giant Kazatomprom said it expected to produce 4,000 tonnes, or 17.5% less, this year as measures designed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus has hit operations.

The Kazakhstan-based producer’s guidance for 2020 was 22,750 to 22,800 tonnes, on a 100% basis.

The producer said it would provide updated production revenue, capital expenditure and costs targets on May 4. Last year, Kazakhstan accounted for more than 42% of the world’s uranium output.

Cameco had said on Tuesday the Kazatomprom cuts would also weigh on its 40%-ownership in the Inkai Joint Venture, an in-situ recovery uranium mine in Kazakhstan. The mine is expected to produce about 12% fewer pounds this year, translating to 600,000 lb. less uranium oxide for the miner’s account.

Last week, the uranium major announced the closure for a month of Cigar Lake, which produces about 13% of global uranium mine supply. This was followed by a 21-day lockdown of mines in another important uranium supplier, Namibia.

Before the announced output cuts, Cameco expected to buy 4.9 million lb. uranium on the spot market this year.

Uranium prices have been on the rise in the past two weeks as investors worried about ongoing disruption to supply, which is divided between a handful of major companies. Year to date, however, prices have dropped more than 15%.

Prior to Kazatomprom’s announcement, BMO Capital Markets was forecasting a deficit in uranium supply-demand balance of 30 million pounds. The experts now figure that could climb up to 40 million pounds.

“The additional 10 million removed from the market will only accelerate the depletion of above ground inventories and potentially result in more utilities reclassifying excess inventories as strategic,” BMO analyst Alexander Pearce, said in a note on Tuesday.

— This article first appeared in our sister publication,


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