Cameco and its predecessor companies have been mining uranium for more than 60 years. We have accumulated extensive knowledge of all aspects of uranium mining and are global leaders in exploration, mine engineering, environmental protection and worker health and safety.
Most of Cameco's operating experience has been acquired in the Athabasca Basin of northern Saskatchewan, home to the world's richest high-grade uranium deposits. Mining in this area presents difficult geological, technical and logistical challenges that Cameco has successfully addressed in becoming a leading uranium producer.
We have operated both underground and open pit mines in the Athabasca Basin and have adapted existing milling facilities at Rabbit Lake and Key Lake to handle ores from a series of different deposits. Our current Saskatchewan operations mine high-grade deposits at the interface between basement rock and overlying water-saturated sandstone at depths up to 640 metres underground and moderate-grade deposits in basement rock. Mining these deposits requires advanced engineering to control groundwater with freezing technology and innovative mining techniques such as raise boring and jet boring. We also use more traditional methods to mine our moderate grade deposit at Eagle Point.
The high ore grades of Cameco's Saskatchewan operations pose additional challenges. To control radiation exposures, Cameco has pioneered remote mining methods and technology as well as underground processing circuits to grind and prepare ore for transportation to milling facilities.
Uranium is mined in a tough regulatory environment for worker safety and environmental performance. Cameco has developed sophisticated radiation protection programs and instrumentation to ensure the safety of our workers. Stringent environmental requirements demand extensive monitoring programs and scientific research to understand and mitigate potential effects. Cameco pioneered in-pit tailings management facilities at its Saskatchewan operations. These are engineered facilities in mined-out open pits designed to protect the environment for thousands of years. In-pit facilities are now recognized as a best practice in tailings management around the world.
Cameco is also a leader in low-cost in situ recovery (ISR) mining technology for uranium. In situ recovery methods are applied at our operations in the US and Kazakhstan to extract uranium contained in sandstone aquifers. In situ techniques involve circulation of solutions through ore-bearing formations to dissolve uranium and pump it to the surface for recovery. This approach results in minimal surface disturbance and produces no waste rock or mill tailings.
For more information on our uranium mining capabilities see the 2012 Annual Report