Nuclear power’s poised to grow, along with Alpha Minerals and Fission Energy
by Greg Klein
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A unique geological legacy has given northern Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin a pivotal role in the world’s energy future. Currently about a fifth of global uranium supply comes from two mines in the basin’s eastern section. But west side drilling has two companies excited about a new discovery. Joint venture partners Fission Energy TSXV:FIS and Alpha Minerals TSXV:AMW first announced their Patterson Lake South find on November 5, with results for four holes released over the subsequent 10 days.
As Fission president/COO/director Ross McElroy explains, “We stretched an eight-hole program into nine holes. On the sixth hole we hit mineralization. The next three holes also hit the same zone. Each of them were 10-metre step-outs. They’re all looking very strong.”
At this point the core has been tested by a hand-held scintillometer prior to assays, when actual grades will be determined. The device assesses radioactivity by measuring gamma ray particles in counts per second. The discovery hole featured a 21-metre interval with readings from below 300 cps to over 9,999 cps, the highest measurable reading. The best hole, one of two announced November 12, showed similar readings for a 24-metre interval. A fourth hole, announced November 15, gave similar numbers for a 22.5-metre interval.
All this bodes well for grades, the JV partners believe. So does the visible mineralization. “We can actually see the pitchblende, which is the uranium oxide mineral, when it’s high grade,” adds Ben Ainsworth, Alpha’s president/CEO/director. “The biggest we’ve seen so far is 21 centimetres, which gives you an off-scale reading on the scintillometer.”
Jody Dahrouge, Fission director and president of Dahrouge Geological Consulting, adds, “There aren’t many one-off holes in the basin. These discoveries tend to have size to them. If you’re looking for gold you can often drill 10 metres of gold, then drill 50 more holes and never hit it again. We know that we’ve hit significant uranium in these holes.”
But impressed as they find this discovery, it wasn’t their objective. “The target we’re looking for is basement rocks, the old, old, Archean rocks that underlie the Athabasca Basin, with no Athabasca rocks on top,” Ainsworth points out. “We’re looking for that because the boulder field we found had uranium that was associated only with basement-type rocks.”
That boulder field includes surface rocks as small as pebbles that have drifted with glacial till. High radioactivity seems to indicate a high-grade motherlode somewhere, probably within kilometres. According to Dahrouge, “In terms of area, magnitude and size, it’s probably the largest-known boulder field in the basin.” That’s what prompted the drilling which found mineralization, but not its source.
“We hit a snag with the drilling, but it’s a very nice snag,” says Ainsworth. “The mineralization didn’t come from the basement rocks we’re looking for, it came from another piece of basement. So we got a discovery of mineralization that we wouldn’t have otherwise anticipated.”
That’s what makes it so exciting—number one, you have the potential for an absolutely fantastic high-grade deposit. Number two, it’s literally within 50 metres of the surface. And it’s in Saskatchewan, which is a wonderful place to do business.—Fission Energy director
McElroy adds, “This boulder field shows high-grade mineralization with assays of up to almost 40% U3O8 [triuranium octoxide], which is terrific by any measure.”
So what’s all this you-three-oh-eight stuff?
Dahrouge replies, “It’s kind of a grab-bag of pitchblende and a whole bunch of uranium minerals that average out at U3O8. Uranium can occur as UO2, UO3, U2O5. So what the industry’s done is taken this term U3O8 because in a very general sense it’s the average.”
McElroy says the boulder field shows “massive pitchblende. We knew the boulders had been transported by the last glaciation so we spent last year trying to figure out the ice direction, tightening up our geophysical targets and drill-testing, looking for what we believe to be a still-undiscovered deposit in situ. With our success this winter, we think our model’s been validated.”
Dahrouge puts the grade in context. “If you took away the Athabasca uranium deposits, which in the case of Cigar Lake and McArthur River are up to 20% U3O8, the highest deposits in the world would be in the 1% or 1.5% range.”
McArthur River, the world’s largest high-grade uranium mine, is operated by Cameco Corp TSX:CCO through a JV in which AREVA Resources holds a 30.2% interest. Cigar Lake, slated for operation in mid-2013, is the world’s largest undeveloped high-grade uranium deposit. Cameco holds a 50% interest, AREVA 37% and two other companies a total of 13%. Cameco holds a 100% interest in the Rabbit Lake mine, currently Canada’s other uranium producer.
Dahrouge emphasizes, “To me, absolutely the most exciting thing about Patterson Lake is it’s 50 to 60 metres deep. And it’s overlain with sand that you can move without blasting. This is one of the shallowest discoveries in the basin to date. Drilling costs a fraction of other projects. If it turns out to be a deposit, mining costs would be a fraction of other projects too. That’s what makes it so exciting—number one, you have the potential for an absolutely fantastic high-grade deposit. Number two, it’s literally within 50 metres of the surface. And it’s in Saskatchewan, which is a wonderful place to do business.”
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