The wait is over: Cameco commences uranium production at Cigar Lake mine
Cameco Corporationannounced last week the official sta...
After 34 years of delays, one of the world’s richest uranium mines is finally coming to fruition.
Cameco Corporation announced last week the official start of production at the Cigar Lake uranium mine and McClean Lake mill in Saskatchewan, Canada, ending 34 years of holdups, troubles and legal delays.
"I thank all of our stakeholders and partners whose strong support helped us bring this rich and challenging deposit into production," said Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel. "This achievement took 10 years, great perseverance and technical creativity, and I commend the many people who contributed."
• Related content: [VIDEO] Cigar Lake Virtual Tour
"We are happy to celebrate these two major uranium mining assets in Saskatchewan, the Cigar Lake mine and the McClean Lake mill," said Olivier Wantz, member of the executive committee and senior executive vice-president, mining and front end business group for Areva Resources Canada Inc, which owns 37 percent of the project. "Their successful operation demonstrates the determination and expertise of our employees to ensure the safe start-up and continued production."
First discovered in 1981, Cigar Lake mine is the world’s second-largest high-grade uranium deposit after McArthur River. Although full scale construction began in 2005 with production planned for 2007, the project endured an array of problems from the beginning.
The mine was flooded in 2006 due to a catastrophic water inflow, with a second flooding occurring in 2008. Although remediation efforts were successful, the price of the project skyrocketed from $450 million to $2.6 billion. In 2014, mining at Cigar Lake began only to be suspended in July in order to allow the ore body to freeze more thoroughly. During 2015, the McClean Lake mill processed and packaged 6.1 million pounds of uranium concentrate from Cigar Lake.
Cameo is expected to ramp up production to 18 million pounds by 2018.
Owners of the project include Cameco (50 percent), AREVA Resources Canada Inc. (37.1 percent), Idemitsu Canada Resources Ltd. (7.875 percent) and TEPCO Resources Inc. (5.0 percent). Cameco is the majority owner and operator.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.