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Thirty-three years after it was discovered, and nine years after construction began, Cameco Corp. has finally brought the much-anticipated Cigar Lake uranium mine into production.
The company made the landmark announcement on Thursday. And after a seemingly endless string of delays and setbacks at the giant Saskatchewan-based project, it must have come as a relief.
“There were a lot of doubters who said it would never be done,” chief executive Tim Gitzel said in a phone interview from the mine site. “But I never gave up on the creativity and the perseverance of our workforce.”
When Cameco’s board approved construction of Cigar Lake in 2004, the expected capital cost was $450-million and first production was planned for 2007. By the end of last year, the cost was a staggering $2.6-billion and it still wasn’t in production. Needless to say, it has been a much tougher process than Cameco ever imagined.
The first big problem came in 2006, when the mine was completely flooded. Cameco faced heavy criticism for the flooding, especially after an independent report found that its “deficient” actions contributed to the event.
It was a reminder that Cigar Lake is one of the most technically challenging mines in the world, and Cameco had to step up its performance.
Cameco pushed the start date for Cigar Lake from 2008 to 2010, and later to 2011. But that was not the end of the problems. One of the shafts flooded again in 2008, shortly after Cameco began de-watering the mine from the first flood.
First production got delayed to 2013. Then last fall, as Cameco neared the end of construction, it identified problems with the underground ore storage tanks at the mine. Joint venture partner Areva SA also said its McClean Lake mill needed to be modified to process Cigar Lake ore.
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