Canadian uranium producer Cameco has commenced production of the first uranium ore from its Cigar Lake underground mine in northern Saskatchewan.
According to Areva Resources Canada, the uranium ore is transported to the company-owned McClean Lake mill, which is located 70km away.
The Cigar Lake project represents a C$2.6bn ($2.4bn) investment, as it will employ more than 600 skilled workers with the majority being residents of northern Saskatchewan.
The mine relies on a high-pressure water jet boring mining system for production and more than 1,000 people are said to be involved in its construction.
The uranium ore is expected to be processed at the McClean Lake mill from the end of the second quarter of this year.
With an annual production capacity of 10,900t of uranium, the mill is expected to produce 770t to 1,100t of uranium concentrate from Cigar Lake over the year.
Theyearly production rate is expected to increase to 8,100t by as early as 2018, Areva noted.
Areva mining business group senior executive vice-president Olivier Wantz said the company's industrial partners and Saskatchewan's economy will benefit from the project going forward.
"Thanks to Cameco's technology for the Cigar Lake mine and Areva for processing this uranium ore, we are proud that production from this unique deposit has begun," Wantz said.
Cameco said that construction of the underground mine began in 2005 but development was delayed due to water inflows in 2006 and 2008.
In 2011, the mine was fully dewatered and remediated and construction resumed.
Image: Cigar Lake Headframes. Photo: courtesy of Cameco Corp.