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Cameco temporarily shutting down Cigar Lake over rising COVID-19 risks

Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel said the safety of their employees and their families is the top priority of the Saskatoon-based company.
Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel said the safety of their employees and their families is the top priority of the Saskatoon-based company. Liam Richards / The Canadian Press

Production at Cameco’s Cigar Lake uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan is being temporarily suspended due to increased risks from the coronavirus pandemic.

CEO Tim Gitzel said the safety of their employees and their families is the top priority of the Saskatoon-based company.

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“We have had six positive tests at our northern operations in recent weeks, including three at Cigar Lake. While the protocols we have put in place have to date allowed us to effectively manage these cases, there are broader risks we don’t control,” Gitzel said Monday in a statement.

“Therefore, we believe it is prudent to do our part to continue to protect our people and our operations from the increasing threats that are outside our influence.”

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Gitzel said access to qualified operational personnel is also a factor in the temporary shutdown.

“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,” he said.

Operations started up again in September after Cameco suspended operations in March due to COVID-19 fears.

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Roughly 300 workers were on-site at the mine this fall during peak production. Cameco said staffing will be significantly reduced while Cigar Lake is placed in a safe state of care and maintenance.

“The timing of the restart and the production rate will depend on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the availability of the required workforce at Cigar Lake, how cases are trending in Saskatchewan, in particular in northern communities, and the views of public health authorities,” Gitzel said.

Cameco said costs associated with the temporary closure will run between $8 and $10 million monthly.

The company also said additional costs may be incurred as it purchases uranium to meet sales commitments.

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“Due to the suspension, we plan to increase our purchases in the market to secure uranium we need to meet our sales commitments,” Gitzel said, adding that delivery delays to customers are not expected.

“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 any costs related to the temporary shutdown will not impact its results until the first quarter of 2021.

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