By Dave Brown – Exclusive to Uranium Investing News
Canada has been a major world producer of uranium since global demand for production of the mineral developed; and the country is rich in uranium resources with a well established track record of successful exploration, mining and generation of nuclear power. Exploration for uranium ore began in earnest in 1942 under direction of the government for military purposes and at its zenith in 1959, Canada’s $330 million in uranium exports exceeded the value for every other mineral. With known uranium resources of 499,000 tonnes of U3O8, as well as increasing exploration projects on the horizon, Canada is certain to maintain a significant role in meeting future global demand.
Canada was the world’s largest uranium producer for many years, accounting for about 22 percent of global supply; however, in 2009 the leading position belonged to Kazakhstan with about 28 percent. Today, production comes mainly from the McArthur River mine in northern Saskatchewan, which is the largest in the world, although other areas have been active in the past including Ontario and the Northwest Territories. Canada is the world’s leading exporter of uranium and hosts three of the top ten producing mines in the world. In addition to being the world’s largest supplier of uranium and potash, Saskatchewan has a wealth of developing mineral resources including coal, diamonds, gold, platinum & palladium, rare earth elements, copper, zinc, nickel, oil, gas, sodium and mineralized brines.
Since 1997, The Fraser Institute has conducted an annual survey of metal mining and exploration companies to assess how mineral endowments and public policy factors such as taxation, geopolitical risk, legislation and regulation impact exploration. The most recent survey includes data on seventy two jurisdictions around the world, on every continent except Antarctica, including sub-national jurisdictions in Canada, Australia, and the United States. This year Canada has continued its world leading performance with six Canadian provinces positioned in the top ten: Alberta, Newfound land & Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec (in top spot as the global leader). Ontario is also considered a relatively strong investment jurisdiction ranking twenty second, down from last year’s tenth spot finish.
Canada produced 10,617 tonnes of uranium in 2008, and in 2009 production was 11,997 tonnes of uranium, 22 percent of global output. Most of this comes from a third generation of mines, which began operating in 1999 at McClean Lake and McArthur River in northern Saskatchewan. The Rabbit Lake mine in the same region is the third source, and is the longest operating uranium production facility in Saskatchewan. The primary uranium producers are Cameco (TSE:CCO) and Areva Resources Canada (formerly Cogema Resources), part of France’s Areva Group (EPA:CEI).
Uranium production in Canada is likely to increase significantly as several new mines, now planned or under construction, go into operation sometime after 2011 well positioned to accommodate forecasts for strong Asian demand. The two largest projects are Cameco’s Cigar Lake mine and Areva’s Midwest mine, both in northern Saskatchewan. The mill at McClean Lake has been modified to process ore from both mines. The Rabbit Lake mill will also be modified to take ore from Cigar Lake. Total production is expected to be 8,200 tonnes per year of uranium from Cigar Lake and 2,600 tonnes per year from Midwest.
Prospective Exploration Opportunities
In addition to mining operations planned for the near future, active exploration involving more than 40 companies continues in many parts of Canada. While exploration has concentrated on northern Saskatchewan, new prospects expansively range from Labrador and Nova Scotia in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec province, Nunavut Territory in the far north, and Ontario’s Elliott Lake area.
In uranium-rich northern Saskatchewan, exploration projects are now well-advanced at several locations. The Millenniumdeposit, which is a joint venture (42 percent owned by Cameco, 30 percent by Japan-Canada Uranium Consortium and 28 percent by Areva Resources) has indicated resources of 21,000 tonnes of 4.5 percent grade uranium and 4,400 tonnes of 2.1 percent grade inferred. It is between McArthur River and Key Lake, with the ore expected to be milled at Key Lake. A feasibility study on the project has advanced to Cameco seeking approval for extraction. Underground development is envisaged over 2013 to 2017. The Tamarack deposit associated with Dawn Lake is also a focus of interest.
Denison Mines Corp. (TSE: DML) is actively exploring the Phoenix deposit in the Wheeler River area half way between Key Lake and McArthur River. It is a long strike from the latter and geologically very similar, with some high-grade uranium mineralization. Denison has a 60 percent interest, Cameco has 30 percent and the Japan-Canada Uranium Consortium is at 10 percent ownership. Last month, Denison announced that the summer drill program had discovered two new mineralized zones at the extreme northeast and southwest edges of the Phoenix trend, which the company believes makes the deposit “one of the most exciting discoveries to come out the uranium-rich area in the last twenty years.”