Tuesday 17th September 2019

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘kazakhstan’

Uranium: A 2040 prognosis

September 5th, 2019

Growing energy needs, emissions reduction look positive for the other yellow metal

by Greg Klein

Oversupplied and under-priced for years, uranium’s forecast now looks good up to 2040, according to a new study. In its latest Nuclear Fuel Report, a study released at roughly two-year intervals, the World Nuclear Association has revised its projections upwards for the first time in eight years. Demand will come from a growing reliance on nuclear energy thanks mainly to China, India and other Asian countries, said the industry organization. Global warming concerns also play a role.

Growing energy needs, emissions reduction look positive for the other yellow metal

The report presents different data for each of three case studies, explained World Nuclear News, a WNA publication. The Reference scenario reflects official targets and plans announced by states and companies, and also considers how nuclear can help address climate change. The Upper scenario anticipates more favourable economics, greater public acceptance and increased dependency to offset climate change. The Lower scenario considers the possibility of negative public sentiment, a lack of political support and more challenging economics.

Even at the Lower scenario, the study foresees nuclear capacity remaining at its current level of 402 gigawatt electrical to 2040. The Reference scenario sees moderate growth to 569 GWe, while the Upper scenario predicts capacity almost doubling to 776 GWe.

The Upper and Reference scenarios show faster growth than at any time since 1990.

Even greater expansion would be required should countries adopt the WNA’s Harmony climate change strategy, which calls for nuclear to supply 25% of the world’s electricity by 2050.

The need for new primary uranium supply becomes even more pressing as a number of older mines are projected to be depleted in the second decade.—World Nuclear Association

The three scenarios “show that the capacity of all presently known mining projects (current and idled mines, projects under development, planned or prospective) should be at least doubled by the end of the forecast period, and the need for new primary uranium supply becomes even more pressing as a number of older mines are projected to be depleted in the second decade,” the WNA emphasized. 

“There are more than adequate uranium resources to meet future needs. However, oversupply and associated low uranium prices are preventing the investment needed to convert these resources into production. Uranium resources would be unlikely to be a limiting factor for the expansion of nuclear programs in order to meet the Harmony goal.”

As for uranium production, the report sees “fairly stable” volume until the late 2020s, but a sharp decrease from 2035 to 2040 “as a quarter of all mines listed in the model reach the end of their production lives,” the WNN stated. “Global output of 66,400 tonnes uranium in 2030 declines to 48,100 tU under the Reference scenario. For the Upper scenario the figures are 71,500 tU (2030) and 49,400 tU (2040). The partial return of currently idled mines to production is expected to begin in 2023 in the Reference case, 2022 in the Upper scenario and 2026 in the Lower scenario.”

In addition to Asia’s growing nuclear reliance, the report bases its positive forecasts on improved government sentiment in France, and in the U.S. at the federal and state level. Countries like Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey will become significant producers of nuclear energy.

In our models, we don’t get excited on the demand side.—Kazatomprom CEO
Galymzhan Pirmatov,
as quoted by Bloomberg

The study crunched data from questionnaires sent to WNA members and non-members, publicly available info and “the judgement and experience of the members of the association’s working group.” Among the considerations were nuclear economics, government policies, public acceptance, climate change, electricity market structure and regulatory standards.

Co-chairing the working group was Riaz Rizvi, chief strategy and marketing officer for Kazatomprom, the world’s top uranium miner. But the positive forecasts seem to contradict his boss. Last June Bloomberg quoted CEO Galymzhan Pirmatovas saying, “In our models, we don’t get excited on the demand side.”

Using data from other sources, Cameco Corp TSX:CCO estimated an August 31 U3O8 spot price of $25.30 per pound and long-term price of $31.00, down from $26.30 spot and $31.25 long-term a year earlier. The company gives numbers of $60.50 spot and $70.00 long-term for March 1, 2011, 10 days before a tsunami hit Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi complex. As Japan shut down other reactors one by one, followed by a few other countries like Germany, the mining industry faced oversupply. Uranium prices fell steadily, sometimes dramatically.

Make no mistake, there is still a long way to go before we decide to restart McArthur River-Key Lake.—Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel

By January 2018 Cameco suspended its McArthur River mining and Key Lake milling operations, despite having put Cigar Lake into production less than four years earlier. Expressing cautious optimism last July, CEO Tim Gitzel added: “However, make no mistake, there is still a long way to go before we decide to restart McArthur River-Key Lake.”

But without them, Cameco has become more buyer than producer. To meet 2019 supply commitments, the company anticipates purchasing 21 million to 23 million pounds from other sources. That compares with an estimated nine million pounds expected from Cigar Lake this year.

Lower cost, higher grade

August 30th, 2019

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

by Greg Klein

Less than 80 kilometres from the technological marvel of Cigar Lake, another uranium project could introduce an extraction method that’s less innovative but a regional novelty just the same. Denison Mines TSX:DML now has testing underway for in-situ recovery at the Wheeler River project’s Phoenix deposit. Should the studies succeed and the mine become a reality, this would be ISR’s first application in Canadian uranium mining.

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

Denison Mines hopes to apply low-cost extraction
to high-grade resources. (Photo: Denison Mines)

ISR finds common use in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the U.S., Australia and enough other countries to account for 48% of global uranium production in 2016, according to the World Nuclear Association. The lower-cost method has often been associated with lower-grade deposits that have geological conditions making the process viable. With a Phoenix probable reserve averaging 19.1%, Denison was able to consider other options. In fact the company originally planned to use Cigar Lake’s jet-boring technique.

But the experience of Cameco Corp TSX:CCO proved to be a cautionary tale. “Among 
the most technically challenging mining projects in the world” according to the company, Cigar Lake took nine years to build, with setbacks that included two serious floods. Finally opened in 2014, its jet-boring extraction makes the very high-grade operation “one of the technically most sophisticated mines in the world.”

Two years later, when Wheeler River reached PEA, Denison was still considering jet-boring for Phoenix. But capex, opex, length of construction and technical risks similar to Cigar Lake’s “catastrophic events” persuaded the company to pursue other options.

That Denison did, examining some 32 extraction techniques over two years before selecting ISR for Phoenix in the pre-feasibility study released last October. Wheeler’s Gryphon deposit, about three kilometres northwest, has more conventional underground mining proposed.

Both deposits are classified as Athabasca Basin unconformity-related. But Gryphon features basement-hosted mineralization while Phoenix mineralization is unconformity-hosted and also shows ISR potential.

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

With its current drill program, Denison hopes to find
potential satellite ISR deposits. (Photo: Denison Mines)

Put simply, the process involves drilling wells into the deposit, injecting a liquid solution that leaches uranium from ore, then pumping the uranium-bearing liquid to a surface processing facility. No tailings or waste rock come to surface. The solution then gets recharged with fresh reagents for re-use in a closed system.

ISR, also known as ISL or in-situ leaching, can be used for copper and other minerals as well.

However Phoenix differs from many ISR projects by the permeability of the deposit’s sandstone walls, which will require freezing to contain the solution. Ground freezing involves pumping very cold brine into holes outside the deposit’s circumference to extract heat from the surrounding rock. Cigar Lake also uses underground freezing to contain the jet-boring process. One advantage of Phoenix over other ISR projects, however, is the relatively compact size of the high-grade deposit, about one kilometre by 50 metres.

Should geology, engineering, permitting and financing come together, Phoenix would take only about two and a half years to build, according to the PEA. With an estimated 11-year lifespan, production would average six million pounds U3O8 annually for nine of those years.

Hinting at satanic numerology, Gryphon would spend six years in construction and another six in operation, producing six million pounds a year. Processing would take place at the McClean Lake mill, now chewing through Cigar Lake ore. Denison holds 22.5% of the mill, along with Orano Canada (70%) and OURD Canada (7.5%).

As for Wheeler River ownership, Denison maintains a 90% stake, with JCU Canada holding the rest.

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

With a deposit lying below Patterson Lake South,
Fission Uranium now has second thoughts
about open pit mining. (Photo: Fission Uranium)

Denison has further ISR tests now underway, part of the project’s feasibility studies. With work conducted by Petrotek Engineering Corp, the program has so far sunk two pump/injection wells and four observation wells along a 34-metre portion of the deposit’s strike. This week president/CEO David Cates described early results as encouraging, “with initial pump and injection tests confirming hydraulic connectivity between all of the test wells within the ore zone.”

The tests also suggest the basement rock beneath the unconformity would contain the solution, unlike the sandstone walls which would require freezing.

Three more test areas will be evaluated up to summer 2020 to compile a hydro-geological model to simulate ground water flow and other factors. The current campaign also includes environmental baseline studies and a 10-hole, 5,000-metre drill program searching for potential satellite ISR operations along the project’s K West trend.

While Wheeler River holds the largest undeveloped deposits in the eastern Basin, the Patterson corridor extending beyond the Basin’s southwestern rim claims fame for two even larger projects.

A pre-feas released by Fission Uranium TSX:FCU in May for Patterson Lake South’s Triple R deposit examined a hybrid open pit and underground mine, but the company was quick to reconsider. An alternative pre-feas began in July to evaluate an underground-only operation. The May pre-feas foresaw four years of construction, six years of open pit operation and two years of underground operation to produce 87.5 million pounds U3O8 over the eight-year span.

The company hopes its new pre-feas, expected in September, will find “further-improved economics, even lower capex and a reduced construction time.” Permitting might also have been a concern, however, for open pit mining on a uranium deposit currently underneath a lake. With the new report using the same resource estimate, Fission plans to compare both scenarios before moving on to feasibility.

Another basement-hosted deposit, NexGen Energy’s (TSX:NXE) Arrow deposit on the Rook 1 project reached pre-feas in December. The proposed underground mine would begin production during the second year of development, ultimately producing 228.4 million pounds U3O8 over a nine-year life, enough to give the company an estimated 21% of global output, just behind first-place Kazatomprom’s 22%, NexGen says.

The company plans full feasibility for Arrow in H1 next year.

Washington continues critical inquiries into rare earths and uranium supply chains

July 15th, 2019

by Greg Klein | July 15, 2019

While somewhat relaxing its concern about uranium, the U.S. appears increasingly worried about rare earths supply. A Reuters exclusive says Washington has begun an inventory to itemize domestic RE projects.

Washington continues critical inquiries into rare earths and uranium supply chains

With an inventory of domestic RE projects
already underway, the U.S. called for a study
of uranium supply chain potential.

“The Pentagon wants miners to describe plans to develop U.S. rare earths mines and processing facilities, and asked manufacturers to detail their needs for the minerals, according to the document, which is dated June 27,” the news agency reported. “Responses are required by July 31, a short time frame that underscores the Pentagon’s urgency.”

The request mentions the possibility of investment by the military, Reuters added.

The move marks another development in American plans to reduce the country’s dependency on critical minerals from economic and geopolitical rivals. Last month the U.S. announced a new critical minerals strategy calling for closer co-operation with allies. Out of an official list of 35 critical minerals, rare earths repeatedly come up for special attention. China supplies 80% of American demand for this economic and military essential, with more imports coming indirectly from China. Compounding the conundrum is the fact that America’s only rare earths mine, Mountain Pass in California, ships its entire output to China.

Last month Reuters stated that U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed their officials “to develop a joint action plan on critical minerals collaboration.”

But if heightened American urgency about some critical minerals looks positive for Canadian projects, so does a reduction in urgency about U.S. uranium supplies.

Cameco Corp TSX:CCO expressed itself pleased with Trump’s decision not to introduce new trade restrictions on uranium imports.

The president disagreed with a July 12 report stating that the country’s heavy reliance on imports threaten to impair U.S. national security. The secretary of commerce found the country’s foreign dependency now accounts for 93% of American uranium supply, up from 85.8% in 2009. The secretary attributed the number to “increased production by foreign state-owned enterprises, which have distorted global prices and made it more difficult for domestic mines to compete,” the White House stated.

But, citing significant concerns nonetheless, Trump called for the creation of a nuclear fuel working group “to develop recommendations for reviving and expanding domestic nuclear fuel production” within 90 days.

Cameco president/CEO Tim Gitzel said the company “also sees tremendous value in increasing co-operation between the United States and Canada to address critical mineral issues and strengthen security of supply on a North American, rather than strictly national, basis.”

Trump and Trudeau’s commitment to a joint action plan “is an excellent initiative, and we see uranium being a key component of that strategy,” Gitzel added.

The U.S. report results from a petition by Energy Fuels TSX:EFR and Ur-Energy TSX:URE, who together took credit for over half of U.S. uranium production in 2017. Yet their estimates for last year showed total domestic production supplied only about 2% of U.S. demand.

The companies called for a 25% domestic quota on uranium purchases in the U.S., suggesting state-owned companies in Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan keep prices below a profitable threshold for American producers. The Eurasian trio provided about one-third of U.S. demand in 2017.

“If Russia and its allies take control of this critical fuel, the threat to U.S. national and energy security would be incalculable,” the companies maintained.

Got the minerals?

March 4th, 2019

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

by Greg Klein

“The Middle East has oil, China has rare earths.”

Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 implied threat became all too real eight years later in the Senkaku aftermath, when RE dependency put Japan and the West at China’s mercy. But just as the United States overcame the 1973 OPEC embargo to become the world’s leading oil producer, that country can overcome its growing reliance on dodgy sources of mineral production and processing. So say authors Ned Mamula and Ann Bridges in Groundbreaking! America’s New Quest for Mineral Independence.

Their country’s problem isn’t geology but policies, the book argues. Repeatedly pointing to Canada and Australia as role models, the authors say their own country’s mining potential can restore mining self-sufficiency, or at least minimize a crippling dependency.

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

Indeed, the mighty nation has a mighty problem with minerals: Imports supply many critical minerals and metals in their entirety, with heavy reliance on Russia and especially China, “countries we consider at best our competitors, and at worst our adversaries.”

Rare earths stand out as the “poster child for U.S. critical mineral vulnerability.” As the authors note, REs remain “essential for military and civilian use, for the production of high-performance permanent magnets, GPS guidance systems, satellite imaging and night vision equipment, cellphones, iPads, flat screens, MRIs and electric toothbrushes, sunglasses, and a myriad of other technology products. Since they offer that extra boost to so many new technologies, these rare earth metals rival energy in importance to our 21st century lifestyle.”

Industrial countries not only surrendered rare earths mining and processing to China, but gave up technological secrets too. That happened when China forced RE-dependent manufacturers to move their operations to China. After Apple transplanted some of its manufacturing to that country, China copied and reproduced the company’s products, at times outselling the iPhone with knock-offs.

A new book says self-imposed obstacles block U.S. self-sufficiency

Other intellectual property faces threats. “U.S. companies—Intematix, GE (Healthcare/MRI Division), Ford (Starter Motor Division), and Battery 1,2,3—have all added manufacturing capacity in China, and so has Japan’s Showa Denko, Santoku, and scores of other global electronics companies.”

RE dominance has also allowed China to lead the world in technology for electric vehicles, renewable energy and next-generation nuclear power. And America relies on its rival for defence: “Most of the U.S.’ advanced weapon systems procurement is 100% dependent on China for advanced metallurgical materials.”

Foreign dependency includes tantalum, “critical to the economy and national defense,” gallium, cobalt, uranium and the list goes on.

According to a just-published report from the U.S. Geological Survey, “in 2018, imports made up more than half of U.S apparent consumption for 48 non-fuel mineral commodities, and the U.S. was 100% net import-reliant for 18 of those.

“For 2018, critical minerals comprised 14 of the 18 mineral commodities with 100% net import reliance and 15 additional critical mineral commodities had a net import reliance greater than 50% of apparent consumption. The largest number of non-fuel mineral commodities were supplied to the U.S. from China, followed by Canada.”

The takeover of former TSX listing Uranium One by Russia’s state-owned Rosatom brings threats worse than most observers realized, the authors say. The acquisition granted the Russian government membership in trade organizations and therefore valuable intel formerly available only through espionage. Uranium One also gives Russia the ability to curtail future American uranium production and use its influence on Kazakhstan, the world’s top producer, to flood the U.S. with cheaper, subsidized supply. That could put both U.S. production and processing out of business in a tactic reminiscent of China’s RE machinations.

China’s communist government uses a ‘debt trap’ model of economic development and finance which proffers substantial financing to developing countries in exchange for an encumbrance on their minerals resources and access to markets. This predatory model has been particularly effective in countries characterized by weak rule of law and authoritarian regimes.—Ned Mamula
and Ann Bridges

The Chinese “are now masters at securing and controlling core natural resources globally, especially minerals.” The country uses long-term contracts, equity investments and joint ventures, as well as the “debt trap” that provides “substantial financing to developing countries in exchange for an encumbrance on their minerals resources and access to markets. This predatory model has been particularly effective in countries characterized by weak rule of law and authoritarian regimes.”

The U.S., meanwhile, suffers not only from naivete and short-term thinking, but from self-induced challenges. The authors devote an entire chapter to Alaska’s Pebble project, maybe the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold-molybdenum deposit. After more than two decades and over $150 million in spending, “Pebble is still more about politics than geology, much less mining the minerals known to exist there.”

The story stands out as “the classic cautionary tale in U.S. history of how a powerful federal regulatory agency can go rogue and impose its will on an unsuspecting permit applicant.”

Suggestions to alleviate these ills include streamlining the permitting process, among other recommendations to open up domestic production and re-build supply chains. One of the authors’ more interesting ideas concerns teaming up with environmental activists to promote ethical green supply chains that would shut out conflict minerals.

The book’s marred by repetition, sloppy English and some bold-faced typographical shouting. It’s also cluttered with a few questionable information sources and excerpts from a novel that would have been better left unwritten. The portrayal of Canada as a role model, moreover, might induce bitter laughter from this side of the border. But Groundbreaking offers a vital message to general readers. In doing so, it could reinforce a growing awareness in the U.S. about the need to minimize foreign dependency.

Read more about U.S. efforts to secure critical minerals here and here.

Critical Quebec commodities

January 11th, 2018

Saville Resources moves into Commerce Resources’ niobium-tantalum target

by Greg Klein

A rare metal find on a property hosting a rare earths deposit becomes a project of its own under a new agreement between two companies. With a 75% earn-in, Saville Resources TSXV:SRE can now explore the niobium claims on Commerce Resources’ (TSXV:CCE) Eldor property in northern Quebec, where the latter company advances its Ashram rare earths deposit towards pre-feasibility.

Saville Resources moves into Commerce Resources’ niobium-tantalum target

A map illustrates the mineralized boulder
train’s progress, showing its presumed source.

Grab samples collected by Commerce on a boulder train about a kilometre from the deposit brought assays up to 5.9% Nb2O5. “That’s right off the charts,” enthuses Saville president Mike Hodge. “People in the niobium space hope for 1%—5.9% is excellent.”

He’s no newcomer to the space or even to the property. Hodge helped stake Commerce’s tantalum-niobium deposit on southern British Columbia’s Blue River property, which reached PEA in 2011.

“I did a lot of the groundwork for Commerce in the Valemount-Blue River area and I was one of the first guys on the ground at the camp that now supports Ashram,” he points out. “I’ve been involved with these two properties since 1999.” That’s part of a career including field experience on over 25 projects as well as raising money for junior explorers.

Miranna’s grab samples brought tantalum too, with a significant 1,220 ppm Ta2O5. Forty of the 65 samples graded over 0.5% Nb2O5, with 16 of them surpassing 1%.

The company describes the sampling area as a “strongly mineralized boulder train with a distinct geophysical anomaly at its apex.”

The 980-hectare Eldor Niobium claims have also undergone drilling on the Northwest and Southeast zones, where some wide intervals gave up 0.46% Nb2O5 over 46.88 metres and 0.55% over 26.1 metres (including 0.78% over 10.64 metres).

Samples from Miranna and the Southeast zone also show that niobium-tantalum occurs within pyrochlore, described by Saville as the dominant source mineral for niobium and tantalum in global mining. That’s the case, for example, at Quebec’s Niobec mine, one of the world’s three main niobium producers, with 8% to 10% of global production. Moreover, pyrochlore on the Saville project “is commonly visible to the naked eye, thus indicating a relatively course grain size, which is a favourable attribute for metallurgical recovery,” the company added.

Hodge already has a prospective drill target in mind. “I pulled the rig around with a Cat for a lot of the holes on Ashram itself so I’m very familiar with the ground. We’d of course do more prospecting and try to prove up some more numbers while we’re drilling.”

Saville Resources moves into Commerce Resources’ niobium-tantalum target

Should Saville find success, a ready market would be waiting. The company cites niobium demand growth forecasts of 7.66% CAGR from 2017 to 2021. A December U.S. Geological Survey report lists niobium and tantalum among 23 minerals critical to American security and well-being.

The country relies on foreign exports for its entire supply of both minerals, according to an earlier USGS study. From 2012 to 2015, 80% of America’s total niobium imports came from Brazil, where one mine alone produces 85% to 90% of global supply. Looking at tantalum imports during that period, the U.S. relied on China for 37% and Kazakhstan for another 25%. A troubling source of tantalum remains the Democratic Republic of Congo, from where conflict minerals reach Western markets through murky supply chains.

Days after the USGS released its December study, American president Donald Trump ordered a federal strategy “to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” Although he emphasized the need for domestic deposits and supply chains, Trump also called for “options for accessing and developing critical minerals through investment and trade with our allies and partners.”

Meanwhile Saville also sees potential in Covette, the company’s other northern Quebec property. Historic, non-43-101 grab samples reported up to 4.7% molybdenum, with some bismuth, lead, silver and copper. A 1,402-line-kilometre VTEM survey in late 2016 found prospectivity for base and precious metals. “The VTEM and some sampling that we did indicates that drilling could find something valuable,” Hodge says. “Although it is early-stage, the Geotech guys that did the VTEM survey said they hadn’t seen targets like that all year.”

Still, “the niobium claims are my first priority,” Hodge emphasizes. “I’m very excited about this. I believe we can have a winning project here.”

Subject to approvals, a 75% interest in the new property would call for $25,000 on signing, another $225,000 on closing and $5 million in work over five years. Commerce retains a 1% or 2% NSR, depending on the claim, with Saville holding a buyback option.

Last month the company offered private placements totalling up to $500,000, with insiders intending to participate.

Read more about the U.S. critical minerals strategy.

Paved with mineralization

October 27th, 2017

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—rocky road to success

by Greg Klein

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—rocky road to success

Profitable right from the beginning, Teck’s Elkview mine “would become
the key chip in the consolidation of the Canadian steelmaking coal industry.”
(Photo: Teck Resources)

 

“We were all young and relatively inexperienced in such matters in those days.”

He was referring to copper futures, a peril then unfamiliar to him. But the remark’s a bit rich for someone who was, at the time he’s writing about, 43 years old and president/CEO of a company that opened four mines in the previous six years. Still, the comment helps relate how Norman B. Keevil enjoyed the opportune experience of maturing professionally along with a company that grew into Canada’s largest diversified miner. Now chairperson of Teck Resources, he’s penned a memoir/corporate history/fly-on-the-wall account that’s a valuable contribution to Canadian business history, not to mention the country’s rich mining lore.

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—road to success

Norman B. Keevil
(Photo: Teck Resources)

Never Rest on Your Ores: Building a Mining Company, One Stone at a Time follows the progress of a group of people determined to avoid getting mined out or taken out. In addition to geoscientific, engineering and financial expertise, luck accompanies them (much of the time, anyway), as does acumen (again, much of the time anyway).

Teck gains its first foothold as a predecessor company headed by Keevil’s father, Norman Bell Keevil, drills Temagami, a project that came up barren for Anaconda. The new guys hit 28% copper over 17.7 metres. Further drilling leads to the three-sentence feasibility study:

Dr. Keevil: What shall we do about Temagami?

Joe Frantz: Let’s put it into production.

Bill Bergey: Sounds good to me.

They schedule production for two and a half months later.

A few other stories relate a crucial 10 seconds in the Teck-Hughes acquisition, the accidental foray into Saskatchewan oil, the Toronto establishment snubbing Afton because of its VSE listing, an underhanded ultimatum from the British Columbia government, getting out of the oyster business and winning an unheard-of 130% financing for Hemlo.

Readers learn how Murray Pezim out-hustled Robert Friedland. But when it came to Voisey’s, Friedland would play Inco and Falconbridge “as though he were using a Stradivarius.” Keevil describes one guy welching on a deal with the (apparently for him) unarguable excuse that it was only a “gentleman’s agreement.”

Norman B. Keevil’s memoir retraces Teck’s—and his own—rocky road to success

Through it all, Teck gets projects by discovery or acquisition and puts them into production. Crucial to this success was the Teck team, with several people getting honourable mention. The author’s closest accomplice was the late Robert Hallbauer, the former Craigmont pit supervisor whose team “would go on to build more new mines in a shorter time than anyone else had in Canadian history.” Deal-making virtuoso David Thompson also gets frequent mention, with one performance attributed to his “arsenal of patience, knowledge of the opponents, more knowledge of the business than some of them had, and a tad of divide and conquer…”

Partnerships span the spectrum between blessing and curse. International Telephone and Telegraph backs Teck’s first foray into Chile but frustrates its ability to do traditional mining deals. The Elk Valley Coal Partnership puts Teck, a company that reinvests revenue into growth, at odds with the dividend-hungry Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Working with a Cominco subsidiary, Keevil finds the small-cap explorer compromised by the “ephemeral response of the junior stock market.” And smelters rip off miners. But that doesn’t mean a smelter can’t become a valued partner.

Keevil argues the case for an almost cartel-like level of co-operation among miners. Co-ordinated decisions could avoid surplus production, he maintains. Teck’s consolidation of Canada’s major coal mines helped the industry stand up to Japanese steelmakers, who had united to take advantage of disorganized Canadian suppliers. “Anti-trust laws may be antediluvian,” he states.

Keevil admits some regrets, like missing Golden Giant and a Kazakhstan gold project now valued at $2 billion. The 2008 crash forced Teck to give up Cobre Panama, now “expected to be a US$6 billion copper mine.” Teck settled a coal partnership impasse by buying out the Ontario Teachers’ share for $12 billion. Two months later the 2008 crisis struck. Over two years Teck plunged from $3.6 billion in net cash to $12 billion in net debt.

But he wonders if his own biggest mistake was paying far too much for the remaining 50% of Cominco when an outright purchase might not have been necessary. Keevil attributes the initial 50%, on the other hand, to a miracle of deal-making.

For the most part Keevil ends his account in 2005, when he relinquishes the top job to Don Lindsay. By that time the company had 11 operating mines and a smelting/refining facility at Trail. A short chapter on the following 10 years, among the most volatile since the early ’70s, credits Teck with “a classic recovery story which deserves a full chapter in the next edition of Never Rest on Your Ores.” Such a sequel might come in another 10 years, he suggests.

Let’s hope he writes it, although it’ll be a different kind of book. As chairperson he won’t be as closely involved in the person-to-person, deal-to-deal, mine-to-mine developments that comprise the greatest strength of this book—that and the fact that the author grew with the company as it became Canada’s largest diversified miner.

Meanwhile, maybe Lindsay’s been keeping a diary.

The author’s proceeds go to two organizations that promote mining awareness, MineralsEd and Mining Matters.

Visual Capitalist: What’s needed to sustain uranium’s resurgence?

January 27th, 2017

by Jeff Desjardins | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | January 27, 2017

What’s needed to sustain uranium’s resurgence?

 

Uranium miners up 59% on pro-nuclear hopes since U.S. election

The Chart of the Week is a Friday feature from Visual Capitalist.

Uranium’s spot price had a rough ride throughout the course of 2016, but for many investors there is suddenly a new aura of optimism around the troubled metal.

It all starts with Donald Trump’s “America First” strategy, which is being perceived by many as a potential boon to the uranium sector. Official details are slim, but industry executives are currently speculating that the Trump administration will be better for nuclear power than the previous government.

If that’s true, then it would mean far less regulatory hurdles for nuclear power, and likely even funding to bring more power plants online in the United States.

A shot in the arm

Perhaps such a catalyst is just what the metal needed. The spot price and the share prices of uranium miners have been in a gruesome bear market ever since the 2011 Fukushima incident in Japan. The prolonged pain has worn down investors and companies alike, but everything has to bottom at some point.

As David Erfle from Kitco pointed out last week, the chart for the Global X Uranium ETF (URA) makes any other downturn look like a piece of cake. The ETF, which tracks global uranium miners, has lost a whopping 90% of its value over the last six years, including two rollbacks (in 2013 and 2015).

Lately, thanks to the “Trump bump” and a 10% production cut in Kazakhstan announced earlier this month, the URA is suddenly buzzing with volume. The ETF is now back up on its feet, gaining a solid 59% since the election.

But can uranium be great again?

A bounce in uranium stocks is something that was way overdue. However, if nuclear-related announcements aren’t made soon from the Trump administration, the newfound optimism could fade pretty fast.

Statistically speaking, the World Health Organization says that nuclear power kills less people per terawatt hour than any other major source of power, even rooftop solar. Nuclear is also friendly from an emissions perspective: using a life-cycle emissions analysis, nuclear generates similar emissions to wind or hydropower.

The problem, of course, lies in the fat tail risk of a nuclear catastrophe, which is something that is still fresh in people’s minds in the wake of Fukushima.

Whether nuclear and uranium can be great again depends on the public’s tolerance for such projects, as well as a significant amount of support from the government to push new projects through. The rally is much welcomed by uranium investors—but it will remain unclear if it has any long-term legs until these two considerations are met.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

An expert view

October 27th, 2016

ALX Uranium’s new CEO Mark Lackey discusses the commodity and the company

by Greg Klein

Thirty-six years in key positions give Mark Lackey a well-rounded perspective on the uranium sector. Added to that is an investor’s outlook gained by experience in the brokerage industry. A prolific media commentator—with over 300 TV appearances—he’s frequently asked to discuss commodities, often focusing on uranium trends and uranium companies. Lackey spoke with ResourceClips.com on October 26, the day he joined ALX Uranium TSXV:AL as president/CEO/director.

Industry expert Mark Lackey takes the helm at ALX Uranium

Mark Lackey brings extensive
expertise to ALX Uranium.

Lackey has served as Bank of Canada economist responsible for U.S. economic forecasting and senior commodities manager at the Bank of Montreal. Stints with Gulf Canada, a uranium producer like many other oil companies of the time, and Ontario Hydro, a major uranium consumer, enhanced his supply/demand insight.

That uranium career includes his 16 years in the brokerage industry, serving with Brawley Cathers, Blackmont Capital, Hampton Securities and Pope & Company. More recently he’s been executive VP at CHF Investor Relations and technical adviser at Presmont Group.

To those who watch uranium, its underachieving price hasn’t just been an ongoing disappointment. It’s a source of frustration to those who’ve made bullish forecasts. Lackey has been less surprised than others, however.

“I spoke at a conference last year and might have been the only one who thought uranium was actually going to go down this year,” he recalls. “It did go down, but way more than I thought, which was about $29 or $28. I thought everybody else was too optimistic about Japan restarting all the units and we’ve seen excess supply coming out of places like Kazakhstan. So the weakness this year didn’t surprise me.”

History gives him a sense of perspective, not to mention optimism. “I’ve seen this from $8 in the late ’90s to $136 in 2007. It fell during the 2008 recession, then came back nicely to $72 in 2011, the day Fukushima was hit. So we’ve had some big moves both ways over the years but now we’re down to a price that’s not sustainable. How many new mines would you get at these prices? I can’t think of too many unless you find something huge in the Basin, because high-volume, low-grade projects in many other places have people looking for $50 to $60—not $21.”

ALX Uranium’s new CEO Mark Lackey discusses the commodity and the company

He sees a number of price catalysts over the next few years: increased buying from utilities, a possible reduction in Kazakhstan supply, Japanese restarts and nuclear expansion elsewhere.

Kazakhstan provided 39% of world supply last year (compared with Canada’s 22%). But Lackey wonders whether low prices will force the global leader to cut output. Kazakhstan has been disregarding a 2011 self-imposed production cap of 20,000 tonnes per year, the World Nuclear Association states. WNA data attributes last year’s output to 23,800 tonnes.

As for Japan, it “will have to do something ultimately,” Lackey maintains. “There are 51 of the 54 reactors idled, that’s six or seven billion dollars a plant, roughly three or four hundred billion dollars of infrastructure. Thirty of the units have been tested positively. There are political concerns and the closer you are to Fukushima the more difficult it would be to restart them, but southern Japan doesn’t seem to have the same anti-nuclear view. Japan’s burning a lot of coal, they’re burning LNG and I hear from my sources that there are brownouts and blackouts. You can’t have that in an industrial country.”

Japan’s restarts would have a symbolic effect. But it is, after all, just one country. “There are about 60 plants under construction around the world right now, and more and more of them are coming into play,” Lackey points out.

“It’s cleaner than most baseload sources and relatively cheap. The planet has 1.2 billion people with no power and another two billion with just intermittent power.”

As someone who’s been watching uranium companies for 36 years, I’ve seen it’s the team you have, the projects you have and the jurisdiction you’re in.—Mark Lackey,
president/CEO of ALX Uranium

Although near-term price scenarios can certainly influence investors, there are other priorities in assessing junior explorers. “As someone who’s been watching uranium companies for 36 years, I’ve seen it’s the team you have, the projects you have and the jurisdiction you’re in. My favourite jurisdiction’s been the Athabasca Basin. It’s got the highest grades and Saskatchewan’s a great province to work in.

“I follow the companies in this space and I can see that ALX has a very strong board, management and technical staff,” he adds. “I’m extremely bullish about uranium and extremely excited about working with such an impressive team. It’s a great opportunity and I’m glad to be part of it.”

Lackey replaces Jon Armes, who steps down to pursue other opportunities but stays on as a consultant. During his six years of leadership at ALX and its predecessor Lakeland Resources, Armes helped build one of the Athabasca Basin’s largest and most prospective uranium exploration portfolios. Most recently he negotiated the Hook-Carter transaction that benefits ALX with the budget and experience of Denison Mines TSX:DML.

Opportunities in adversity

June 9th, 2016

John Kaiser talks Trump, turmoil, gold, scandium and the juniors

by Greg Klein

It’s said to be an ancient Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Much about our own epoch obviously interests and probably fascinates John Kaiser. But he might be accused of ambivalence for the silver linings he sees among the gathering clouds. The analyst and creator of Kaiser Research Online spoke with ResourceClips.com on a range of subjects, but with mineral exploration always in mind.

On gold’s rally

This one has a stronger foundation than previous upswings, Kaiser believes. Chinese aggression, Russian expansionism, Middle East volatility, Brazilian instability, the possible Brexit and the chances of a Donald Trump U.S. presidency all mean “we’re looking at an extremely turbulent world,” he says. “There’s good reason to expect gold to go higher as capital starts to hedge against all these gloomy scenarios.”

John Kaiser talks Trump, turmoil, gold, scandium and the juniors

That could push prices between $1,600 and $2,000 in the next year, he maintains. “And if that’s happening in the absence of any inflation, that really leverages those ounces in the ground that the juniors have and makes operating mines more profitable. Even for exploration companies it lowers the bar for what counts as a new discovery.”

On the juniors’ rally

Kaiser attributes this year’s rebound partly to gold, but also to renewed interest in discovery exploration.

“I’m very pleased that the rally that started the third week of January did not succumb to the PDAC curse and slow down,” he says. “By May everything’s usually in the garbage can before the summer doldrums. We’re not seeing these substantial gains continue that we saw from February to April, but we haven’t seen the markets give up the gains either.

“We’re probably not going to see a roaring global economy driving up demand and catching supply off guard like we did during China’s supercycle. However, as this world gets more belligerent, we could see massive disruptions of supply.”

John Kaiser talks Trump, turmoil, gold, scandium and the juniors

John Kaiser: “I’m very pleased that the rally
that started the third week of January did not
succumb to the PDAC curse and slow down.”

That would bring greater concern about jurisdictional risk for vital commodities. “An opportunity for the juniors would be to seek out existing deposits of these metals. They might not be worth developing now, but they could be treated by the market as leveraged bets on these big-picture geopolitical outcomes.”

On the Donald

A Vancouver native who’s spent 26 years in the U.S., Kaiser’s firmly among those who consider that country’s anti-establishment presidential contender an outrage.

“He’s basically touching on all the latent prejudices and biases of the country,” says Kaiser. “But another reason people will vote for him is he is not an anti-Keynesian. He and Hillary Clinton both understand that to get America cranking again we need fiscal stimulus in the form of infrastructure renewal. The Republicans have blocked anything along those lines….Trump could prove to be a giant wrecking ball for the stalemate that characterizes Washington. That could put him into power.”

But Kaiser wonders if Trump has a hidden motive to his campaign strategy.

“This guy is an extremely smart person and it’s possible that everything he says is just BS designed to manipulate the public. It’s like he’s satirizing everything. And if he ever did get into power, well first he’d have to deal with the limitations that congress imposes, but once he’s in power he might change his tune and discover all these reasons why it’s not practical to do all the stupid things he said he would do.

“The frightening thing is, what if this sub-narrative is wrong, that the man is indeed insane or worse. Or that he ends up being co-opted by the truly insane in the background, who make him the lever on all the insane stuff that he said, because he is just a human being and he has no true power structure. It would be a reverse takeover of Trump.”

Kaiser downplays the possibility of a Trump presidency meeting an extraordinary end—for example assassination, an establishment putsch or a distinctively American court order annulling the election.

But “whether it’s Hillary or Trump, tensions with China and Russia are on an increasing trajectory,” he says. “That would be good for gold and good for the juniors.”

On the scandium Field of Dreams

“The problem with scandium—and it makes me want to tear out my hair that the market doesn’t get it—is that the uses for scandium have been understood for 30 or 40 years.”

By being able to demonstrate that these deposits have long-term supply, they can produce as much scandium as you want if you’re willing to pay $1,500 or $2,000 a kilo. That will coax demand off the sidelines.

Used for aluminum-scandium alloys and solid oxide fuel cells, the rare earth element also finds its way into ceramics, electronics, lasers, lighting and radioactive isotopes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The stuff is widely abundant, but rarely in concentration. As a result it’s mined as a byproduct in China, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine, producing just 10 to 15 tons a year, the USGS states.

But if supply could grow, so would demand, Kaiser says. The aerospace and automotive industries would be prime customers. “The highest-grade deposits have been around 70 or 100 ppm, as in the Zhovti Vody mine in Ukraine, where the Soviets got scandium to build their airforce fleet. But nobody else has been able to produce a very meaningful supply that is scalable.”

That’s changing as two advanced Australian projects lead the way, Scandium International Mining’s (TSX:SCY) 80%-owned Nyngan project and Robert Friedland-backed, ASX-listed CleanTeQ Metals’ Syerston project.

“The difference these discoveries made is their 400-ppm grades are well above the 200 or 250 ppm you need to produce the stuff at $2,000 a kilo,” Kaiser explains. “At $2,000 a kilo it starts making sense to use a scandium-aluminum alloy. By being able to demonstrate that these deposits have long-term supply, they can produce as much scandium as you want if you’re willing to pay $1,500 or $2,000 a kilo. That will coax demand off the sidelines.

“The next few years will be interesting because those companies are going to try producing 35 to 40 tonnes a year. If they can succeed in demonstrating that they’ve got the recoveries figured out, they’ve got the costs figured out, they can scale these things each to about 150 to 200 tonnes of output, that will set the stage for all kinds of plans to utilize it. It’s really a Field of Dreams where if you build it, they will come.

“But you have to understand that there are all these applications for scandium that can’t be commercialized unless there’s a reliable, scalable supply.”

John Kaiser addresses the Vancouver Commodity Forum on June 14. Click here for free registration.

U.S. doubles Kazakhstan uranium imports as domestic purchases plummet

October 6th, 2015

by Greg Klein | October 6, 2015

U.S. doubles Kazakhstan uranium imports as domestic purchases plummet

(Chart: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

 

The world’s largest producer of nuclear energy relied increasingly on Kazakhstan for uranium last year, as purchases from domestic suppliers plunged 65%. According to figures supplied by the U.S. Energy Information Administration on October 5, Kazakhstan sold the U.S. about 12 million pounds U3O8 last year, 23% of the 53.3 million pounds purchased. Imports from Kazakhstan nearly doubled over 2013.

American supply fell to 3.3 million pounds from the 2013 total of 9.5 million pounds. While domestic purchases languished at 6% of the total, imports from Australia and Canada followed Kazakhstan closely with 19.7% and 18.3% respectively.

U.S. doubles Kazakhstan uranium imports as domestic purchases plummet

Kazakhstan’s government-owned Kazatomprom
is the world’s largest uranium supplier.

Purchases don’t necessarily reflect production, however. American mine output increased to 4.23 million pounds uranium in 2014 from 3.95 million the previous year, according to the World Nuclear Association.

“Average Kazakh uranium prices have been lower than other major supplying countries’ prices for the past two years,” the EIA noted. “Uranium from Kazakhstan was $44.47 per pound in 2014, compared with the overall weighted-average price of $46.65 per pound for the 41.3 million pounds of uranium purchased from producers outside Kazakhstan in 2014.”

That country overtook Canada as the world’s leading uranium producer in 2009. Since 2007 its uranium production has more than tripled, while Canadian production has been relatively constant and Australian output dropped 42%, the EIA stated.

Australia’s 19.7% of the U.S. total represented a slight drop to 10.5 million pounds U3O8 from the previous year’s 10.7 million pounds. Australia’s 2014 weighted-average price came to $48.03.

Running a close third, Canada’s 18.3% marked an increase to 9.8 million pounds from 7.8 million pounds in 2013. Canada’s 2014 weighted-average price was $45.87.

World Nuclear Association data from 2013 credits Kazakhstan with 41% of world production, followed by Canada with 16% and Australia with 9%.

The U.S. holds top place for global nuclear energy, producing about 30% of the world total, according to the WNA. In 2014, 100 reactors generated over 19% of the country’s electricity. The U.S. now has 99 reactors in operation and another five under construction.