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Bernard Michel has made profound and enduring contributions to Canada’s mining industry during his transformative 15-year tenure with Cameco Corporation, the world’s largest publicly traded uranium company. Since 1988, he has steered the Saskatchewan-based company through a merger, a restructuring, privatization, global expansion and diversification into gold. He positioned Cameco as one of the world’s few integrated nuclear energy companies, encouraged the entry of First Nations peoples into its workforce, and enhanced its global stature by participating in the most significant nuclear disarmament agreement in history.
Born and educated in Paris, France, and a graduate of the prestigious École Polytechnique, Michel was sent to Canada as a young mining engineer in 1967 to contribute to the design, construction and start-up of a large potash mine in Lanigan, Saskatchewan. He moved next to Amok, also a French-owned mining company then developing the very high grade Cluff Lake uranium mine in the province’s Athabasca Basin. His leadership and technical skills attracted the attention of the Canadian Energy and Mining Company (later renamed Cameco), which offered him the post of senior vice-president of operations in 1988. Two years later he became chief operating officer, president and a board member. In 1991, he was appointed chief executive officer, and in 1993 was elevated to chair of the board. Cameco’s transformation under his leadership was swift and dramatic. In 1988, the company had inherited debt of $650 million and was saddled with the bureaucracy of federal and provincial crown ownership. Cameco was privatized in 1991, allowing Michel to restructure the company, create a more dynamic corporate culture, and expand its operations and global reach.
Under his tenure, Cameco remained consistently profitable in spite of years of depressed uranium prices. By 1998, the company was producing a third of the world’s uranium and had become a leading refiner and converter of uranium. It developed new uranium mines in Saskatchewan, expanded operations into the US and Kazakhstan, increased its gold exposure through development of the large Kumtor deposit in Kyrgyzstan and the Boroo deposit in Mongolia, and acquired a one-third partnership interest in North America’s largest nuclear generating plant, Bruce Power in Ontario, whose board Michel chairs at present. In 1988, Cameco employed 1,300 people. Two decades later, total employment had climbed to more than 3,000 people worldwide, including 1,700 in Saskatchewan. Thanks to Michel’s leadership, Cameco today is one of the largest aboriginal employers in Canada. On the world stage, he oversaw Cameco’s participation in the 1999 agreement to facilitate, in partnership with the Russian and US governments, the dismantling of 20,000 Russian nuclear warheads. The resulting uranium was and still is purchased by Cameco and its partners, and resold to utilities, with a share of the proceeds used to fund further weapons dismantling.
Michel has won many awards for his visionary role in the uranium and nuclear energy industries, including the French Order of the Legion of Honour (1998), the Queen’s Jubilee Commemorative Medal (2002), the Saskatchewan Order of Merit (2004) and an honorary doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan.