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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.

Athabasca Basin and beyond

October 4th, 2014

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere for September 27 to October 3, 2014

by Greg Klein

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Fission continues PLS main zone’s perfect score, gets conditional approval for TSX listing

In a week that saw Fission Uranium TSXV:FCU win conditional approval to move up to the TSX big board, the company maintained this season’s 100% hit rate at Patterson Lake South’s R780E zone. All seven holes released September 29 returned wide mineralization. The main zone now boasts 61 successes out of 61 summer holes.

The results come from a hand-held device used to measure drill core for radiation. They’re no substitute for assays, which are pending.

Among the most recent batch’s highlights, hole PLS14-290 revealed intervals totalling a composite 97.5 metres of mineralization, the shallowest beginning at 113.5 metres in downhole depth. PLS14-298 showed a composite 84 metres, with the shallowest intercept starting at 146.5 metres. PLS14-296 came up with a 94.5-metre composite, with one interval starting at 96 metres. True widths weren’t available.

An innovation to the summer program has been angled drilling from barges over the lake. Now Fission’s emphasizing three “scissor” holes, each sunk north to south at an opposite azimuth to a south-to-north hole. The purpose is to “provide geometry control and confirmation on the mineralization.” PLS14-290, for example, “intersected well-developed mineralization … in an area that had previously only seen moderate results.”

By far the biggest of four zones along a 2.24-kilometre potential strike, R780E shows a continuous strike of 930 metres and, at one point, a lateral width of 164 metres. The project’s mineralization sits within a metasedimentary lithologic corridor bounded to the south by the PL-3B basement electromagnetic conductor.

Still to come are assays to replace the summer’s radiometric results, as well as assays for the final dozen of last winter’s 92 holes. December’s still the target for a maiden resource.

Fission greeted October 3 by announcing conditional approval for a TSX listing. The company anticipates big board trading on or about October 8, retaining its FCU ticker.

In an interview posted by Stockhouse October 3, Fission chairperson/CEO Dev Randhawa contrasted Saskatchewan’s stability with that of other uranium-rich jurisdictions like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Namibia and Niger. Verifying his intention to sell the project, Randhawa told journalist Gaalen Engen, “We have about six or seven Asian and North American companies in the midst of due diligence who are interested in doing private placement and/or taking over the company.”

The previous week Fission closed a $14.4-million private placement and released regional PLS drill results.

Field work and drilling approach for Lakeland Resources’ Star/Gibbon’s Creek flagship

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere for September 27 to October 3, 2014

Scintillometer in hand, a geologist prospects
for radiometric anomalies over the Star uplift.

Announced September 29, the termination of an option with Declan Resources TSXV:LAN gives Lakeland Resources TSXV:LK full control of its 12,771-hectare Gibbon’s Creek project, which features boulder samples up to 4.28% U3O8 and some of the Athabasca Basin’s highest-ever radon readings. Three days later Lakeland released rock and soil sample results from its adjacent Star property, showing gold, platinum and palladium, as well as some rare earths and low-grade uranium. Especially when considered for their proximity to a structural lineament that runs through both properties, the results show similarities to major Basin discoveries of high-grade uranium, the company states. With the two properties on the Basin’s north-central margin united as one project, Lakeland has additional field work planned for autumn. That leads up to a drill program slated to begin this winter, if not sooner.

Jody Dahrouge, president of Dahrouge Geological Consulting, told ResourceClips.com of geophysical data showing “a major regional structural lineament that’s about 30 or 40 kilometres in length, and it’s been reactivated many times over 100 million years or more. This is a key ingredient to every uranium deposit in the Athabasca Basin…. Having it reactivated time and time again allows multiple generations of fluid to flow along that structure and deposition of perhaps multiple ore bodies.”

He identified three mineralizing systems within five to 10 kilometres of the structure. The Star uplift, a basement outcrop about 700 metres by 350 metres, was the location of many of the samples showing gold and platinum group elements, along with some rare earths and low-grade uranium.

A massive alteration zone about a kilometre south had historic drill results up to 1,500 parts per million uranium. A few kilometres farther sits the boulder field that graded up to 4.28% U3O8. “Clearly something’s going on and clearly it’s related to the structure,” Dahrouge said.

With drill permits in place, road access from a nearby community, shallow depths, high ground that can be worked year-round and a healthy treasury, Lakeland now plans the next stage of an extensive exploration program for its flagship.

Read more about Lakeland’s Star/Gibbon’s Creek project.

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Athabasca Basin and beyond

July 6th, 2013

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere for June 29 to July 5, 2013

by Greg Klein

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Conductive trend links Forum’s Clearwater with Patterson Lake South

A conductive trend hosting the Patterson Lake South discovery extends into Forum Uranium’s TSXV:FDC adjacent Clearwater property, the company announced July 3. Preliminary results from an electromagnetic and magnetic survey link the trend with the high-grade, near-surface uranium found by Alpha Minerals TSXV:AMW and Fission Uranium TSXV:FCU over the last several months.

Along with three other companies, Forum took part in a jointly funded VTEM-plus time domain survey to fly contiguous PLS-area properties held by Forum, Aldrin Resource TSXV:ALN, Skyharbour Resources TSXV:SYH and Athabasca Nuclear TSXV:ASC. A radiometric survey will follow later this summer to search for radioactive boulder trains.

Uranium news from Saskatchewan and elsewhere for June 29 to July 5, 2013

Core trays hold Patterson Lake South samples with off-scale gamma ray readings over 9,999 counts per second. Fission and Alpha have now announced details of their $6.95-million PLS campaign.

Clearwater sits adjacent to the southwest of Patterson Lake South and also borders properties that would form part of the Western Athabasca Syndicate. Under a memorandum of understanding announced June 24, Skyharbour and Athabasca Nuclear TSXV:ASC plan to combine their Athabasca Basin properties into a single 287,130-hectare package. The two companies, plus Lucky Strike Resources TSXV:LKY and Noka Resources TSXV:NX, would then fund $6 million of exploration over two years. Except for the 11,769-hectare Wheeler project on the Basin’s east side, the entire package lies within the PLS area.

As a result of its find, Forum increased the resolution of its airborne survey. The company plans to follow up with radon surveys, ground geophysics and detailed prospecting.

Fission, Alpha unveil $6.95-million Patterson Lake South plan

With barges and drills onsite and permits in hand, the Alpha/Fission joint venture released details about their imminent $6.95-million, 44-hole, 11,000-metre PLS program on July 2. The 50/50 partners plan 40 holes focusing on three zones along an 850-metre trend, while an additional four holes will test additional targets along strike. Equipment will include a reverse circulation drill for overburden, two diamond drills for bedrock and three barges to keep them afloat. Two of the three zones are underwater with lake depths of about four to six metres.

All holes will get a radiometric probe. Ground geophysics and environmental baseline studies will also take place.

So far over 90% of drill targets have found mineralization, the companies stated. The 31,000-hectare project’s three zones are separated by gaps of 300 metres and 360 metres that have yet to be drilled. All three zones remain open in all directions, the partners added.

Fission serves as project operator until April 2014, when it swaps roles with Alpha.

Japanese utilities to apply for nuclear reactor permits

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority will begin receiving applications on July 8 for reactor re-starts, Bloomberg reported. The news agency’s July 3 dispatch said 48 reactors, providing over a quarter of the country’s electricity, had been shut down following the 2011 earthquakes and Fukushima accident. Since then Japanese utilities have been “bleeding cash from importing extra oil and gas for backup generation.”

Speaking to ResourceClips.com on July 5, Dundee Capital Markets senior analyst David Talbot said he’s heard three agencies will be reviewing the applications in a process that might take as long as six months. “It’s not whether their reactors are coming back online because I think everybody realizes they are,” he said. “It’s how many reactors are going to come online and how quickly…. How many of these reactors get up and running by the end of the year is probably one of the biggest questions. Once they start coming back online, I think that’s going to give a psychological push to the entire sector.” As a result the price of uranium, now below $40 a pound, could get the boost needed to spur mine development, Talbot explained.

Japan, Uzbekistan to co-operate on uranium exploration

Meanwhile, Japan expects to sign a uranium exploration agreement with Uzbekistan, the Kyodo news service reported on July 6. Two state-owned companies, the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp and Uzbekistan’s Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Combinat, will meet July 8 to ink a five-year plan to assess uranium deposits in Uzbekistan. Japan depends completely on imported uranium.

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