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Cameco's SEU project suspended


For the second time in seven years, Cameco's slightly enriched uranium (SEU) nuclear fuel project is suspended. This time, millions of dollars have already been spent.

"We've been told to suspend the project by Bruce (Power)," Bob Kelly, director of public and government affairs with Cameco Fuel Services in Port Hope, says. "We have not been told to cancel the project."

And estimated "millions" of dollars have been spent thus far prepping the Port Hope Cameco facility for SEU production.

"Bruce is pretty much responsible for all the costs," Kelly says. "It was their project. We (Cameco) were implementing it for them."

The new SEU lines were slated to be completed by June followed by testing and, ultimately, federal licensing.

"There hadn't been an end date when there would be production," Kelly says. "That would have been up to Bruce."

An estimated 15 full-time jobs, plus future hires, has been the SEU project staffing complement touted since Cameco first proposed SEU production in Port Hope in 2002 -- plus an additional 80 construction jobs.

"We don't know yet what the number will be" for job loss, Kelly says. "We are still assessing the potential impacts."

The SEU cancellation will not affect existing production of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and uranium dioxide (UO2) at the Port Hope waterfront refinery for CANDU reactors.

While Cameco owns an estimated 30% of Bruce Power, "they are the customer," Kelly says.

Other partners are TransCanada Corporation and BPC Generation Infrastructure Trust (a trust established by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, the Power Workers' Union and The Society of Energy Professionals).

"Certainly, it's disappointing the project isn't going to be going ahead," Kelly says. "We will be going through an orderly shutdown over the next few weeks."

The SEU fuel produced in Port Hope was slated to be used when nuclear reactors need to be shut down. The enriched fuel has a greater capacity for absorbing neutrons than standard nuclear fuel.

Now, however, Bruce Power is investigating "a different approach, a different technology" for a "lower-cost" alternative fuel to be used.

That alternative is still to be approved and licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Pending that approval, Bruce instructed Cameco to suspend -- rather than cancel outright-- the Cameco SEU project.

Cameco's original SEU project was first announced as a concept in 2002 and then as a firm plan in 2003. It became a catalyst for protest from three local Port Hope-based groups: Families Against Radiation Exposure (FARE), the Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee and the Port Hope Nuclear Environmental Watchdogs.

When the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission announced the SEU project would be subject to environmental review in 2007, the project was suspended until hearings were completed in 2008. In January 2009, Cameco received federal licensing of the project and construction work began on SEU production lines at the Port Hope refinery.