The excitement Paladin Resources Limited (TSE: PDN) has been quietly generating through the uranium mining sector puts African uranium mining squarely into the spotlight. The country of Namibia, bordering South Africa, Botswana, Angola and the South Atlantic Ocean, is already one of the world’s key uranium producers – supplying global utilities with between six and eight percent of the uranium oxide of the world’s newly mined supply to fuel their nuclear reactors. In an historic development, two sales contracts were recently announced for the purchase of uranium from Paladin’s Langer Heinrich uranium project before the mine has been commissioned (scheduled for opening in September 2006). Both contracts announced eight days apart in late January of this year were each for the delivery of more than 2 million pounds of U3O8 between 2007 and 2012. The company’s news release of January 27th named an unspecified U.S. utility as one of Paladin’s new customers.
Namibia is a uranium-friendly mining country. In October, Mined and Energy Minister Erkki Nghimtina told the country’s National Assembly, “Namibia should consider exploiting its uranium ore reserves in the light of rising world uranium prices.” The country has already been doing so, through Rio Tinto Group’s Rossing uranium mine for the past 25 years, which provides jobs to more than 800 employees. With the addition of the Langer Heinrich, more uranium will be mined.
The Rossing is one of the largest open pit uranium mines in the world and with solid reserves. According to the company’s website, this mine “currently produces about 7.7 percent of the world’s uranium.” The Rossing uranium deposit is an intrusive deposit, with intrusive rocks in this category which include alaskite, granite, pegmatite and monzonites. Around the world similar type deposits include South Africa’s Palabora and Greenland’s Ilimausaq. In South Australia, a similar intrusive deposit – Radium Hill – was mined from 1954-1962.
Paladin’s success story has spurred another junior uranium company, Forsys Metals (TSX: FSY) to press forward with its advanced stage exploration uranium project in Namibia’s Erongo region. Last May, a bottom-fishing investor might have easily bought Paladin Resources shares for under C$1/share (the low was $C0.86). Recently, those shares traded as high as C$3.30/share – a 300 percent (or more) gain in less than twelve months. How does Forsys Metals stack up against the giant Rossing uranium mine and Paladin’s burgeoning Langer Heinrich? Forsys Metals shares today are in the same trading one might have found Paladin Resources less than a year ago. Forsys has initiated a pre-feasibility study on the company’s Valencia uranium deposit, which should boost investor interest if the company makes positive strides toward achieving that target.
Forsys Metal’s Valencia Uranium Deposit
Forsys Metal’s Valencia uranium deposit is located 35 kilometers along geological strike from the Rossing uranium mine and approximately 40 kilometers north of the Langer Heinrich deposit. “This is a granitic uranium deposit (uranium mineralization in granite), that is geologically similar to the Rossing,” said Duane Parnham, Chairman Chief Executive of Forsys Metals. “We’ve completed a National Instrument 43-101 compliant technical report verifying the historical work of Goldfields Namibia between 1973 and 1986. It outlines a historical resource of greater than 20 million pounds of U3O8.” Parnham explained the mineralization is exposed on the surface and the deposit remains open for further expansion. “The Valencia is also a deposit we feel can be moved rather quickly into a production scenario,” Parnham pointed out. “The deposit is amenable to conventional open pit mining methods.”
According to the National Instrument 43-101 technical report filed in October 2005 on the Valencia uranium property by Graham Michael Greenway, a registered geological scientist with South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions, “Uranium mineralization is present at the Valencia Project property as uraninite (UO2) mineralization… Uranium mineralization has been identified over an area of 1,100m north-south by 500m east-west…Uranium mineralization predominantly occurs in the finer-grained alaskite… The uranium mineralization is variably distributed through the alaskite intrusions and in many cases high-grade mineralization is in contact with barren or poorly mineralized alaskite.”
The Valencia project area is situated in the Central Zone of Africa’s Damara Orogenic Belt. This belt belongs to the late Precambrian, early Palezoic and Pan African Mobile Belt system that run across the African continent. Medium to high grades of metamorphism and voluminous granitic intrusions characterize the Central Zone. In a 1992 report entitled Uranium: The Mineral Resources of Namibia, published by the country’s Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Geological Survey, geologists Roesener and Schreuder wrote, “All of the uraniferous granitic occurrences discovered in Namibia are situated in the Central Zone.”
The geology is similar to the Rossing uranium mine, according to Duane Parnham. Greenway suggested geological similarities as well. In his resume, Mr. Greenway disclosed he had completed a Minerals Resource estimate for the Valencia project, while in the employ of Rossing Uranium Ltd. Having graduated from South Africa’s University of Natal, Greenway has worked for 15 years as a geologist, ten of those years spent evaluating and calculating mineral resources. In his conclusion filed in the National Instrument 43-101, Greenway wrote, “The Valencia Uranium Project contains an alaskite hosted uranium deposit similar to other uranium deposits found in the Central Zone of the Damara Orogen. The main zone of mineralization is 520 meters wide, 720 meters long, and 200 meters thick and occurs from surface down to a depth of 360 meters.” Greenway estimated that at a cut-off grade of 017 kg/t U3O8, the currently defined inferred mineral resource at Valencia is 32 million tonnes at a grade of 0.22 kg/t U3O8.
Where water costs are high, uranium mining can become costly and uneconomic. Forsys Metal’s Valencia property is admittedly in a desert region. Distant water would require a pipeline. For example, the current pipeline to the Rossing uranium mine requires 2 million cubic meters of water daily pumped to it. Mr. Parnham does foresee this as a potential hazard, but believes the pipeline to the Rossing mine could be extended to the Valencia deposit, should it become a producing uranium mine. The Langer Heinrich also has a pipeline to pump the precious in order to mine the uranium. However, with that concern, there is the flip side. The Rossing mine reportedly produces uranium at less than $20/pound. Some estimates reach as low as $12/pound, but at a rising spot uranium price seemingly destined to top $40/pound, any production cost under $20/pound, in sufficient quantity, could be bankable. One uranium insider suggested the Rossing may be in the process of expanding its uranium production, because of the soaring spot uranium price, to as much as triple its current capacity.
The problem with water might be solved in the context of Namibia’s energy import climate. Currently, the country reportedly imports about 80 percent of its power from South Africa. The controversial Swakopmund desalination plant, first announced in 1998, might be revived to meet the country’s growing water requirements. The country may need to drill more water wells. In any event, miners can become creatively inventive when faced with environmental concerns in order to produce their commodity. In this case, helping Namibia solve its water issues could very well help that country accelerate its industrial growth strategy.
Based upon the rising monthly value in his company’s potential asset, brought about by soaring spot uranium prices, Parnham doesn’t mince words in spelling out the direction Forsys Metals is heading, “We think we have a situation whereby we can fast-track a pre-feasibility stage by conducting some limited amount of verification drilling and geo-tech drilling, and then make a formal decision to move immediately into a bankable feasibility stage.” How fast can Forsys Metals move forward? In the case of Paladin Resources, they fast-tracked their project forward in less than two years. Will history repeat itself with Forsys Metals? Stay tuned.
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