CIM Magazine

 

February 24, 2014

 

Uranium exploration spikes in Saskatchewan

Long-term demand growth and positive initial results have prospectors digging deeper in the Athabasca Basin

 

Saskatchewan, which hosts some of the world’s most attractive uranium reserves, has been seeing increased exploration activity during the past year, a trend slated to continue in 2014. “Several major players are making big investments here,” says Ross McElroy[1], president and chief operating officer at Fission Uranium Corp. “I’ve heard that there are more drilling rigs operating in the province’s Athabasca Basin, than there are gold rigs in the rest of the world combined (due to the last year’s drop in gold prices).”  

 

Of those Fission, which has been generating considerable momentum at its Patterson Lake South property, is leading the pack. “The GT (grade percentage x thickness in meters) value in our latest tests is nothing less than phenomenal,” said McElroy in a call from Europe, where Fission executives were conducting a road show. “Patterson Lake South already has world attention. The latest hole is another big step forward.” Drill core samples were split in half sections on site. The first set of half-splits was sent to GEO Geoanalytical Laboratories, in Saskatoon for analysis. The second set was kept on site for reference.

 

Fission bets big on Patterson Lake

McElroy, a seasoned mining veteran, who did his early geology training at the University of Alberta, should know.  During his more than three decades in the industry he has done stints at Areva, BHP Billiton and Cameco. However last month when the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada awarded McElroy its 2014 Bill Denis Award for Canadian Discovery and Prospecting Success, it was due to his efforts in leading the Patterson Lake South eam, which is made up of some of the country’s top geologists, geophysicists, geo-chemists and glaciologists.

 

Fission has been betting big on the 31,039 hectare Patterson Lake South project, which it owns fully. The company’s exploration team began work at the property, which is accessible by road with primary access from the all-weather Highway 955, in November of 2012. After an initial four holes drilled that year, exploration spiked to 74 holes in 2013 and is slated to rise to 140 in 2014.

 

“It’s a very attractive deposit,” said McElroy. “While it is located underwater, it is relatively close to the surface, and mining under these conditions has been done before.” Much of the drilling efforts this year, will center on trying to figure how the ore bodies that were already discovered are connected together. The idea is to get better visibility as how much uranium ore is down there, and what are best ways to get it all out.

 

Long-term uranium demand is on the upswing

Saskatchewan uranium properties are key to making Canada the world’s second largest producer, second only to Kazakhstan, according to the World Nuclear Association[2]. Cameco which operates the MacArthur River[3] mine, the world’s largest, has significant reserves there. As if that were not enough, the company is slated to shortly begin production at Cigar Lake, another Saskatchewan property, which Cameco bills as the world's second largest high-grade uranium deposit. This will substantially boost the province’s share of total global uranium output.

 

That said, while short-term uranium demand remains too low to incentive the building of new mines, the longer-term outlook is far more bullish says Aaron Salz[4], an analyst with Dundee Capital Markets. The number of operable, under construction, planned and proposed nuclear reactors rose from 923 in 2009 to 992 as of the end of last year, according to the World Nuclear Association. As a result, uranium demand is projected to grow by between 2.5% and 4% per year.

 

Meanwhile supply is tightening. The lag by Japanese players to restart their nuclear power industry, following the Fukushima debacle, has forced Saskatchewan uranium companies to preserve cash, defer expansions, shut down mines and even cancel projects.  “That is the driving force for mid- to long-term strength in uranium prices,” notes Salz in recent report co-written with David Talbot. “We expect prices to rise, and relatively quickly when they do.”

 

Fission is not alone in its desire to get in on the bandwagon. Analysts[5] also regard Denison Mines, which owns several Athabasca based deposits and a processing mill in the region, as a prime takeover candidate. NexGen, which owns a portfolio of assets in the Athabasca Basin, also announced positive drilling results at the end of February. Leigh Curyer[6] its CEO, who describes the region as a “new prolific uranium district,” says that the company expects to substantially expand drilling there.

 

As for Fission Uranium, according to Dev Randhawa its chairman, the company’s main goal is to bring the Patterson Lake South property forward as far as it effectively can. However the ultimate objective is sell the asset to a major developer who can leverage its full value. “We prefer to concentrate on what we do best, which is finding the resource,” says Randhawa. “After that, others can take it from there.”

 

 

peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

 

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[1] Ross McElroy, ross@fissionuranium.com

[2] http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/Canada--Uranium/

[3]  Ibid, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/Canada--Uranium/

[4] Aaron Salz, 416-350-3371, asalz@dundeecapitalmarkets.com

[5] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-21/japan-nuclear-restart-portends-uranium-deals-real-m-a.html

[6] Leigh Curyer, lcuryer@nexgenenergy.ca +61 409 679 104

 

 


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