Australia's Uranium Deposits and Potential Mines
(Updated November 2014)
See also companion paper on Australia's Uranium Mines.
Summary of Known Uranium Resources Available in Major Deposits and Prospective Mines
||67 700 t
||measured & indicated resources
||14 540 t
|Mt Fitch, NT
||6 600 t
||10 250 t
||indicated & Inferred resources
|Nolans Bore, NT
||25 600 t
||63 000 t
||measured & indicated resources
|Mulga Rock, WA
||27 100 t
|Ponton, Double 8, WA
|Nyang, Carley Bore, WA
||12 000 t
|Lake Maitland, WA
||10 800 t
||measured & indicated resources
|Theseus, Lake Mackay, WA
|| 3600 t
|Thatcher Soak, WA
|Billeroo West (Gould Dam), SA
||0.045%, 0.33 m%
||2 500 t
|Bevereley Four MIle, SA
||32 000 t
||indicated & inferred resources
|Prominent Hill, SA
|Mt Gee, SA
|Crocker Well, SA
||6 740 t
||24 765 t
||measured & indicated resources
|Skal, Andersons, Bikini, Watta, Qld
||12 800 t
|Ben Lomond, Qld
Mineral Resources and Reserves
The following are internationally-recognised categories based on Australia's JORC code, which the Canadian NI 43-101 code follows.
A ‘Mineral Resource’ is a concentration minerals in the Earth’s crust with reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction. Mineral Resources are sub-divided, in order of increasing geological confidence, into Inferred, Indicated and Measured categories.
An ‘Inferred Mineral Resource’ is that part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, grade and mineral content can be estimated with only a low level of confidence. The information on which it is based is limited, or of uncertain quality and reliability.
An ‘Indicated Mineral Resource’ is that part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a reasonable level of confidence. It is based on exploration, sampling and testing information which is adequate to assume but not confirm geological and/or grade continuity.
A ‘Measured Mineral Resource’ is that part of a Mineral Resource for which tonnage, physical characteristics, grade and mineral content can be estimated with a high level of confidence. It is based on detailed and reliable exploration, sampling and testing information with locations spaced closely enough to confirm geological and grade continuity.
A ‘Mineral Reserve’ (or Ore Reserve) is the economically mineable part of a Measured and/or Indicated Mineral Resource. It allows for dilution and losses which may occur when the material is mined. Appropriate assessments and studies will have been carried out, and include consideration of realistically assumed mining, metallurgical, economic, marketing, legal, environmental, social and governmental factors. Mineral or Ore Reserves are sub-divided in order of increasing confidence into Probable Mineral/Ore Reserves and Proved Mineral/Ore Reserves.
A ‘Probable Mineral Reserve’ (or Probable Ore Reserve) is the economically mineable part of an Indicated, Mineral Resource. Studies to at least Pre-Feasibility level will have been carried out, demonstrating that extraction could reasonably be justified.
A ‘Proved Mineral Reserve’ (or Proved Ore Reserve) is the economically mineable part of a Measured Mineral Resource. Studies to at least Pre-Feasibility level will have been carried out, demonstrating that extraction is justified.
Australian Uranium Deposits
The Jabiluka 1 uranium deposit in the Northern Territory was discovered in 1971 by Pancontinental Mining Limited. In 1973 further drilling located the larger Jabiluka 2 uranium orebody about one kilometre to the east. Jabiluka lies 230 kilometres east of Darwin and 20 kilometres north of Ranger on the edge of the floodplain of Magela Creek, a tributary of the East Alligator River. It is surrounded by the Kakadu National Park, but the mine lease area is excluded from the National Park and adjoins the Ranger lease. Jabiluka 2 has resources in excess of 135 000 tonnes of uranium oxide, and is one of the world's larger high grade uranium deposits.
An Environmental Impact Study was approved in August 1979. In August 1982 Mineral Lease MLN 1 was granted by the Northern Territory for a period of 42 years following the signing of an agreement with the Northern Land Council, representing the traditional Aboriginal owners. The agreement, approved by the Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, was to provide $10 million to local Aboriginal people up to the end of construction, then royalty-type payments of 4.5% of net revenue, increasing to 5% after ten years. No Aboriginal sacred sites would be disturbed.
By the end of 1982 all necessary mining and environmental approvals had been obtained from governments for the underground mining of the Jabiluka 2 orebody and the Company had been cleared by the Commonwealth to seek sales contracts. Significant marketing progress was made, firm commitments being obtained for the supply of 15 600 tonnes of uranium oxide over ten years. However, with the Australian Labor Party coming to power in the 1983 federal election, Commonwealth approval was withdrawn and development ceased.
In 1987 Pancontinental bought the 35% equity in the project then held by Texaco. In August 1991 Energy Resources of Australia (ERA), the operator of the adjacent Ranger mine, bought the Jabiluka lease from Pancontinental for A $125 million.
In 1993 ERA undertook a feasibility study with a further drilling program on the orebody. This involved more than 12,000 metres of drilling, concentrating on the eastern half of the orebody (which was temporarily renamed North Ranger 2). As a result, ERA published proved and probable reserves of 19.5 million tonnes of ore at an average grade of 0.46% U3O8 containing 90,400 tonnes of uranium oxide. The study envisaged an underground mine, with ore being milled and treated at the existing Ranger site and tailings disposed of there. A total of only 20 hectares of land would be required for the surface facilities at the mine site, or 80 hectares including the haul road (wholly on ERA leases), compared with 820 hectares required under the previously-approved 1982 proposal.
Ranger and Jabiluka leases
A new Environmental Impact Statement for mining the Jabiluka 2 orebody and milling the ore at Ranger was approved in October 1997, following public comment. A Public Environmental Report on the alternative of milling the ore at Jabiluka was approved in August 1998, conditional upon all tailings being emplaced underground. This completed the Commonwealth approvals process for the project.
The Jabiluka mine development proceeded in 1998-99 with relevant agreements in place. However, mining was deferred until Ranger output starts to decline towards the end of its life, and until agreement could be reached regarding treatment of Jabiluka ore at the Ranger mill. The mine was developed with an 1150 metre access decline and a further 700 metres of excavation around the orebody. About 50,000 tonnes of mineralised material which was removed during development was stockpiled under cover on the surface. Development then ceased and the mine was put on standby with environmental maintenance and planning.
In 2000, following intensive drilling from the underground access to the Jabiluka orebody, ERA revised the overall resource, with some reduction in actual reserves. Proved and probable ore reserves now stood at 11.8 Mt ore @ 0.50%, containing 59,000 tonnes U3O8. Additional measured and indicated resources were 21,700 tonnes U3O8 in 0.43% ore, and inferred resources a further 54,700 tonnes in 0.54%. All figures were based on a cut-off grade of 0.20%.
In 2003 the Northern Territory government approved ERA's proposal for long-term care and maintenance of the Jabiluka site and this was implemented. The stockpiled mineralised material was backfilled into the decline and a similar quantity of waste rock joined it. ERA also undertook improvements to water management at the site. The new works were in line with the wishes of the Aboriginal traditional owners. They also improved the environmental management of the site and cost less than long-term management of the previous situation. ERA (whose parent company is Rio Tinto) will not proceed with the mine until there is agreement from the local Mirrar Aboriginal people.
At the end of 2012 and 2013 ERA quoted reserves of 67,700 t U3O8 in 0.49% ore, measured and indicated resources of 16,440 t in 0.36% ore, and inferred resources of 57,500 in 0.48% ore.
See also ERA website.
Koongarra is a small but relatively high grade uranium deposit in the Alligator Rivers of the Northern Territory. It lies some 30 km south of Ranger and 3 kilometres east of Nourlangie Rock. When the Kakadu National Park was set up in 1979, the land covered by the Koongarra Special Mineral Lease was excluded. However, the Lease area is on Aboriginal land. In 2013 federal legislation incorporated Koongarra into the Kakadu National Park.
Koongarra was discovered by Noranda Australia Ltd in 1970. In 1980 Denison Australia Pty Ltd took over Noranda's interests in the deposit. In 1992 Total acquired a 70% interest in Koongarra, which was subsequently acquired by Cogema Australia Pty Ltd. In 1995 Cogema acquired the remaining 30% interest in the project. In 2006 Cogema mining operations became part of Areva NC.
When Denison Australia took over the deposit, a draft EIS was submitted to the Federal Government. The final EIS was approved in 1981. Denison conducted a review of the project to minimise its impacts and this resulted in the definition of a 1050 ha project site extending into the National Park. This area was excised from the National Park by the Koongarra Project Area Act 1981, but the Act was never proclaimed. In the mid 1980s, and again in 1991, Denison negotiated Aboriginal agreements, but these did not receive the assent of the Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Development was stalled in 1983. Following the 1996 change of federal Government, all aspects of the project were reassessed by Cogema, but in April 2000 the (Aboriginal) Northern Land Council vetoed development of the project for five years. This veto was subsequently renewed, and remains in force. In 2010 the federal Labor government committed to incorporate the 1228 ha Koongarra project area into the Kakadu National Park, and in June 2011 UNESCO gave it world heritage listing.
The upper orebody had proved and probable ore reserves with an average grade of almost 0.8% U3O8, containing 14 500 tonnes of uranium oxide accessible by open pit mining, and with associated gold. Proposed production was 1375 tonnes U3O8 per year. A poorly-defined lower orebody is estimated to contain 2000 tonnes of uranium oxide in 0.3% ore but did not form part of the reserves.
Mount Fitch, NT
Mount Fitch was discovered in 1965 and is part of the old Rum Jungle workings near Batchelor, 64 km south of Darwin. Compass Resources NL has been active in the area for some years, primarily focused on the Browns deposit, a copper-cobalt-nickel deposit close to the old Intermediate open pit. In 2006 Compass reported resources of 4050 tonnes U3O8 at Mt Fitch, averaging 0.046%.
The Angela deposit, 25 km south of Alice Springs was discovered in 1973 and extensively drilled by Uranerz Australia in 1989, under a Uranerz-MIM joint venture which reported 11,500 tonnes of U3O8 at 0.10 to 0.13% (measured, indicated, & inferred resources), spread over 5.7 kilometres strike length in sandstone to a depth of 650 metres and open at depth.
After Uranerz departed from Australia in 1991, Angela was held under a retention licence, but this was relinquished due to prevailing Labor Government policy. The NT government in February 2008 accepted a bid by 50-50 joint venturers Paladin Energy Ltd and Cameco Australia to explore the deposit with the adjacent Pamela deposit. The new Angela Project JV committed to spend $5 million on confirming the resources once a licence was issued, with a view to then undertaking a bankable feasibility study. It was expected to have a conventional hard rock mill and an alkaline leaching circuit, with production possibly in 2012. However, in September 2010 for political reasons the Northern Territory government refused to allow the Angela-Pamela project to proceed. This barrier has since been removed. In September 2011 Cameco handed over management of the JV to Paladin, and Paladin has now bought out Cameco’s share. The JORC-compliant inferred mineral resource is now 11,870 tU @ 0.11%U.
Bigrlyi/ Ngalia, NT
Bigrlyi is a series of discontinuous lenses outcropping over 12.5 km in hard sandstone along the northern edge of the Ngalia Basin in NT, 350 km NW of Alice Springs. Central Pacific Minerals NL in 1982 reported resources of 2181 tonnes U3O8 averaging 0.372% in eight separate lenses, the main mineral being uraninite, along with vanadium minerals. In mid 2008 indicated resources were 4050 tonnes U3O8 at 0.173% average (and 4000 t V2O5) and inferred resources of 6500 tonnes at 0.125%, with cut-off of 0.05%. Energy Metals, the operator, has announced good recoveries and relatively low acid consumption from metallurgical testwork. A proposed open cut mine is expected to produce at least 6800 tonnes U3O8 with similar amount of vanadium by-product over ten years. An additional 550 t U3O8 would be accessible underground.
The deposit is held by a joint venture including Energy Metals Ltd (53.74%) and Valhalla Uranium (42.06%, Paladin subsidiary). In 2009 a subsidiary of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Co bought 69.3% of Energy Metals, valued at $86 million. Energy Metals has an export permit which unusually is not tied to any particular deposit or source (in December 2011 it announced the sale of 68 tonnes of U3O8 to its parent company, for shipment early in 2012).
A pre-feasibility study in 2011 showed that the project was technically viable but not economically so at present prices and quantities. At 0.05% cut off, resources amounted to 7700 t U3O8 indicated and 5400 t inferred at 0.082%, with associated 16,700 t vanadium, amenable to open pit mining.
Nolans Bore, NT
This is a deposit of rare earths (REE), about 135 km north of Alice Springs, and has some uranium as potential by-product. Arafura Resources intends to develop it as a rare earths mine. It has predominantly light REEs, and plans to process its concentrate at Whyalla to produce 20,000 t/yr rare earth oxides, 150 t/yr U3O8, plus phosphoric acid and gypsum co-products.
The Napperby project in the Northern Territory, 150 km northwest of Alice Springs, is an historic uranium prospect, comprising an extensive near-surface, consistent mineralised zone that is relatively low grade calcrete, but is close to infrastructure. An inferred resource of 670 tonnes in 0.36% ore over one kilometre of paleochannel was reported in 2006. Toro Energy took over the project from Deep Yellow Ltd, with an option to purchase, and better defined the resource with a view to mining it. The inferred resource figure was increased to 3350 tonnes at 0.036% U3O8 in March 2009, and a scoping study was undertaken. As a result of this, completing the purchase at $57 million could not be justified and the project reverted to Deep Yellow.
Gould's Dam, SA (with East Kalkaroo and Honeymoon)
Honeymoon itself was discovered in 1972, about 75 kilometres north west of Broken Hill, 30 kilometres inside South Australia. MIM Holdings Ltd bought out CSR Ltd's 34.3% share in 1988. In 1997 Sedimentary Holdings NL reached agreement with MIM to acquire the Honeymoon leases next to its own East Kalkaroo deposit on the Yarramba palaeochannel. The 1997 agreement also included acquisition of the Gould Dam-Billaroo West leases 80 km northwest of Honeymoon. That 1997 agreement initially brought together known uranium resources of about 4200 tonnes U3O8 averaging 0.11% and amenable to in-situ leaching. The purchase was funded by Southern Cross Resources Inc. of Toronto. Sedimentary Holdings progressively reduced its share in Southern Cross and sold the last 7% in September 2004.
Mineralisation at Billeroo West (including Gould Dam) in the Billeroo palaeochannel is similar to that at Honeymoon. Following exploration late in 2004 of one kilometre of palaeochannel using prompt neutron fission technology, the indicated resource was stated as 2000 t U3O8 at an average GT of 0.33 m% or 0.12% U3O8. Much of the palaeodrainage system there is untested.
In 2004 the company revised development plans down to a 400 tpa plant at Honeymoon, but development was deferred pending higher uranium prices and the outcome of further exploration at Gould's Dam. In December 2005 Southern Cross Resources was taken over by Aflease to form Uranium One Inc. In August 2006 Uranium One announced that development of Honeymoon would proceed as a 400 t/yr ISL mine. In October 2008 the company announced a joint venture with Mitsui (49%) to complete development of the project. Similar joint ventures with Mitsui would apply to Gould Dam and Billeroo, but in 2012 Mitsui withdrew from the arrangement.
Early in 2009, a 20% share in Uranium One was taken by three Japanese companies as Japan Uranium Management Inc (JUMI), giving (with Mitsui's 49% then) total 59% Japanese equity in Honeymoon and Gould Dam. (JUMI comprises Tepco, Toshiba and Japan Bank for International Cooperation.) As of 2009, 51% of Uranium One was owned by Russia's ARMZ, but in 2012 ARMZ moved to buy out all other shareholders.
Beverley Four Mile, SA
Four Mile comprises two deposits 5-10 km NW of the Beverley mine and is being explored and mined by Quasar Resources Pty Ltd (a subsidiary of Heathgate Resources). The extended Beverley North mine lease is contiguous. Alliance Resources Ltd is a 25% free carried joint venture partner. An "initial resource estimate" of 15,000 tonnes U3O8 at 0.37% was announced in May 2007 for the west deposit and this subsequently became 14,000 t indicated resources and 4700 t inferred resources under JORC code, at 0.34%. Alliance in January 2008 announced preliminary indications of a similar resource in the Four Mile East deposit and in June 2009 confirmed 13,000 tonnes U3O8 at 0.31% inferred resources, making a total of 32,000 t at 0.33% (27,100 tU at 0.28%U). Both resource estimates assume ISL mining. A cut-off of 0.5 metres at 0.10 m% grade thickness was used for both resource estimates. Both deposits remain open, with potential for further resource upgrade. They are about 3 km apart. Some additional mineralization has been identified in the western area of Four Mile West, which has the potential to add up to 30% to that resource if this mineralization is proved recoverable by ISL, or mineable by other means.
In January 2008 Alliance announced a concept study for the project with ISL mining commencing in 2010 if resources in the eastern deposit matched those in the west deposit, which they since have. Grades are being measured with a prompt fission neutron (PFN) tool, giving much more confidence than gamma logging. There are three mineralised layers between 190 and 210 metres deep, ranging from 1.1 to 7.3 metres thick and with grades up to 1.74% U3O8.
Early in 2008 Quasar decided to proceed with mining as soon as possible. A feasibility study for the mine was brought forward, making the planned field leach trial on the west deposit redundant. Uranium recovery was to be through a satellite ion exchange plant at Four Mile then trucking the loaded resin to the main Beverley plant for stripping (elution) and precipitation.
Quasar applied for a mining lease in May 2008. An environmental assessment was published in January 2009. The mining lease was subject to registration of a Native Title Mining Agreement (NTMA), following both of which on-site construction could commence. Due to delay with that Agreement, Qasar told Alliance that "commissioning has been significantly delayed beyond April 2010". Then a legal feud between the partners resulted in a major delay. Production, when it begins, was to ramp up to 1400 t/yr U3O8 over three months. In January 2012 Alliance reported that work on the Project remains scaled down until the NTMA litigation is finalized, an agreed NTMA is registered, and a mining lease is issued. The 10-year mining lease was granted to the partners in April 2012, and environmental approval in August 2013.
Alliance has published estimated project costs of A$90 million as determined by Quasar in its feasibility study. Forecast total cash costs, including royalties, were A$38.80/lb U3O8. However, in July 2010 Alliance Resources took Heathgate Resources and subsidiary Quasar to the Federal Court to seek damages for misleading and deceptive conduct and restitution from Quasar of the 75% interest in the exploration licence over the Four Mile deposit. Alliance undertook a study on setting up its own full treatment plant to produce 2250 t U3O8/ 1900 tU/yr. A scoping study suggested that this would be very competitive with the proposed Heathgate toll treatment. Alliance reports resources as 14,000 t U3O8 indicated resources and 17,700 t inferred resources in 2013.
In October 2012 Quasar announced that it would commence mining, initially from the east orebody, in 2013, and subsequently from the west orebody, at 970 t U3O8 per year. Alliance dissented and voted against the decision. Quasar proposed using its nearby Pannikin satellite plant 2.5 km away, and then trucking the loaded resin to Heathgate's main plant 10 km away for product recovery. The decision did not affect Federal Court proceedings by Alliance for misleading and deceptive conduct, with Alliance seeking restitution of its full ownership of the deposit. However, Alliance settled with Quasar in June 2014, paying out $4.557 million for costs.
Quasar advised of construction start in December 2013 and first ISL recovery in April 2014. Quasar expects to produce 857 t U3O8 in 2014, and spend A$ 77 million, excluding any development of the west orebody. Cash operating costs ($31.50) plus development costs to end of 2014 work out to about A$ 40/lb U3O8, with sale price expected to be A$ 49/lb.
Alliance has been drilling a further area on the lease, at Four Mile Northeast, some 1200 metres northeast of the east orebody and close to Heathgate’s Pannikin satellite plant. This has yielded some promising intersections, though Alliance and Qasar disagree on who should pay for the program, costing $12 million. In February 2014 Alliance advised of an exploration target for this area of 19,000 to 35,500 t U3O8 grading 0.20-0.24%, but no JORC-compliant figures are yet available.
In May 2012 Alliance announced an agreement with Itochu Corporation to take a 14.9% share in the company and then possibly 25.1% more. If both options were exercised the company would have been able to fund a stand-alone ISL operation at Four Mile, independently of Heathgate and the toll treatment at Beverley. Itochu taking up the equity was contingent upon restoration of Alliance’s full ownership of the deposit, which did not happen. In July 2014 Alliance solicited bids to buy its share of Four Mile.
Mt Gee, SA
Working with data from earlier drilling campaigns, Marathon Resources quantified the uranium resources of the Paralana ore system comprising a number of uranium and polymetallic orebodies spread over 12 km in the north Flinders Ranges of South Australia. The Mt Gee deposit is part of the Paralana minerals system which is mostly low-grade but with some higher-grade portions. Other orebodies in the system are also prospective. The area had been drilled extensively since 1968 by Exoil, CRAE (Rio Tinto) and Goldstream. In 2007 Marathon initiated a pre-feasibility study and an environmental impact study for underground mining at Mt Gee. In September 2008 the company announced a revised resource estimate with indicated resources of 2800 tonnes and inferred resources of 28,500 tonnes U3O8, with 0.03% cut-off.
The Mt Gee - Mt Painter mineralisation is the source of uranium in the palaeochannels around Beverley, a few kilometres east.
In July 2011 the South Australian government announced that it would proclaim the whole Arkaroola area a reserve and ban mining within it, thereby neutralising Marathon's main asset. The government proposed a three-step approach whereby the first step would involve prevention of new exploration and mining titles in the region. The second step included enacting a special purpose legislation to protect the natural, cultural, and landscape values of the area, and the third step would be to nominate the area for listing on the National Heritage List and seek to have it nominated for World Heritage listing. In November 2013 Marathon announced that “both the political and regulatory regimes have deterred us permanently from the uranium industry.”
Oban & Curnamona, SA
A large area including most of the Yarramba palaeochanel north of Honeymoon- East Kalkaroo was held by Havilah Resources but was floated as Curnamona Energy Ltd in 2005, with Havilah now holding 45% of the company. In 2012 it bid to buy out other shareholders.
The Oban deposit 60 km north of Honeymoon is hosted by an extensive bed of Tertiary sand. It was explored by Marathon Petroleum Australia Ltd in the early 1980s with a best result of 3 metres grading 0.12% U3O8. Paladin Resources Ltd carried out additional drilling in the area in the late 1990s. The mineralisation is mostly very thin and occurs at 80-90 metres depth and is discontinuously developed over 3 km in a carbonaceous and pyritic sand unit. It has typical roll front characteristics. Most of the deposit is held under a retention lease. In March 2009 approval was given for a field leach trial to enable resource figures to be published. The trial showed that acid leaching was unproductive. Curnamona earlier quoted a 2100 tonne U3O8 inferred resource there.
Crocker Well & Mt Victoria, SA
Uranium mineralisation in the Olary area of SA (Curnamona province) was investigated 1951-78 by the SA Mines department and private companies, and the Crocker Well deposit went through to a feasibility study then. This uranium field has six deposits over 4 sq km. Inferred resources are 6740 t U3O8 (12.5 million tonnes @ 0.05% U3O8 with cut-off of 0.03%). The Mt Victoria deposit 7 km away has an inferred resource of 400 t (0.25 Mt grading 0.16%). Mineralisation at Crocker Well is primarily thorian brannerite in igneous rock, with some davidite, while that at Mt Victoria is davidite. Together they comprise the main part of the Curnamona Province Project.
PepinNini Minerals Ltd now holds both deposits and adjacent prospective ground. Other hard rock outcrops in the area grade up to 2.1% U3O8. With a cut-off of 0.025% the total inferred resource is 8576 t U3O8 at average 0.048% grade. In March 2006 a JORC-compliant inferred resource of 6750 t was quoted with grade of 0.05% for Crocker Well. A scoping study for 500 tU/yr production encouraged the company to proceed with upgrading the resource to measured or indicated status and quantifying further mineralisation. Resource verification was due to be complete in July 2008. Metallurgical testing shows good potential for ore beneficiation prior to treatment, and also that hot leaching gives good recoveries.
In June 2007 Sinosteel Corporation of China committed $40 million for a 60% stake in PepinNini's Curnamona Project as a joint venture partner. Sinosteel committed $11 million to explore and develop the project to mid 2009. Of this, $5 million was spent on exploratory drilling and metallurgical testing at Crocker Well, together with a process of regulatory approvals and a Bankable Feasibility Study which is now underway. Application for a mining licence was lodged in September 2008. In December 2009 PepinNini announced that preliminary financial modeling of the Crocker Well project indicated that it was not currently viable, and that PepinNini and Sinosteel were delaying completion of the bankable feasibility study "until there is a substantial increase in the price of uranium and improvement in the US dollar."
UraniumSA Ltd has announced JORC-compliant inferred resources of 19,000 t sediment-hosted U3O8 at its Mullaquana/ Samphire project south of Whyalla on the Eyre Peninsula. The Blackbush orebody (12,700 t @ 0.028%) has average thickness of 11.7 metres, and most is less than 50 m deep. The Plumbush orebody (6300 t @ 0.029%) is 8 km south of it. Both are amenable to ISL mining, though the aquifers are very saline. In 2011 further resources, some high-grade, were identified in or on the granite basement. In 2011 Samphire Uranium Pty Ltd applied to begin trials with a view to bringing Blackbush into production, but the discovery of basement mineralisation opened up the prospect of open pit mining.
This is a major polymetallic deposit near Olympic Dam, on the western shore of Lake Torrens. Specifically, it is an iron oxide copper-gold deposit similar geologically to Olympic Dam, but deeper (below 470 m) and possibly more complex metallurgically. It was bought by Oz Minerals in March 2011 for US$ 325 million from Teck Resources and a private prospector who discovered it in 2005. It is 250 km southeast of Prominent Hill and in the southern portion of the deposit it has an inferred resource of 55,000 tonnes U3O8 at 0.027%, as copper by-product. After further drilling, a pre-feasibility study in mid-2014 showed that most of the uranium could be removed from the copper concentrate in the $3 billion project. Possible mine development would be over 2015-17, so that it takes over from Prominent Hill as that is depleted about 2018. Up to 3000 tU/yr production is possible.
Prominent Hill, SA
Minotaur Resources Ltd proved up a significant mineral resource in the Gawler Craton, some 150 km NW of Olympic Dam. In 2001 copper-gold mineralisation in iron oxide similar to Olympic Dam's was discovered under 100 m of sedimentary cover by the Mount Woods joint venture, and Minotaur subsequently bought out the other parties, notably BHP-Billiton. Oxiana Ltd then farmed in towards earning 65% of the project by spending $34 million in staged exploration and evaluation. In 2005 Minotaur resources was acquired by Oxiana Ltd, which subsequently became Oz MInerals.
As of August 2004 an inferred resource of 97 million tonnes at 1.5% copper, 0.5 g/t gold and 103 ppm uranium was in the upper chalcocite. In deeper chalcopyrite, uranium runs to 120 ppm. This amounted to less than 10,000 tonnes U, with unknown mineralogy and hence uncertain recovery. In 2010 the company said that the uranium was not included in resource figures because it was not foreseeably economic.
Junction Dam, SA
Marmota Energy is exploring the Junction Dam deposit 10 km east of Honeymoon and 50 km west of Broken Hill. Marmota’s Junction Dam and Mulyungarie tenements cover up to 20 kms of the eastern extension of the Yarramba Palaeochannel which hosts Honeymoon. About 1500 t U3O8 inferred resources have been identified so far at relatively high grades.
The Kintyre deposit is a significant high-grade uranium orebody with a small surface outcrop in the remote Rudall region of Western Australia. This is on the western edge of the Great Sandy Desert in the Eastern Pilbara Region of Western Australia, approximately 70 km south of Telfer and some 1200 kilometres NE of Perth. It was discovered by Rio Tinto Exploration in 1985 through surface follow-up of a number of radiometric anomalies detected during an airborne survey.
The deposit then lay less than a kilometre inside the state's largest national park, covering 1.5 million hectares. The Rudall River National Park is surrounded by vacant crown land and has boundaries defined arbitrarily by latitude and longitude rather than natural features. It was established in 1977 to preserve and demonstrate an arid desert dry river ecosystem in the Eastern Pilbara region. Mineral exploration was permitted within it. However, the Kintyre orebody is outside the catchment area which the Park had been intended to protect.
Canning Resources Pty Ltd was the Rio Tinto company which in association with Rio Tinto Exploration took over the role of assessing the feasibility of bringing a mine into production. By 1988 reserves of some 24 000 tonnes of uranium oxide (in association with other minerals) had been delineated, with a further 12 000 tonnes of inferred resources, in several contiguous parts of the orebody, with a grade of 0.2-0.4% U3O8 and a cut-off grade of 0.05%. This showed that development was feasible.
In 1991 Rio Tinto Exploration received the WA Minister for Mines' Award for Environmental Excellence "for the overall commitment of exploration staff to minimising the impact of exploration activities at Rudall River whilst under critical community scrutiny and for progressively rehabilitating all areas disturbed during exploration, as an integral part of the overall exploration programme."
In April 1994 the State Government excised an area of 15,100 hectares from the Rudall River National Park, including the Kintyre project area. At the same time a strip of land of 15,400 ha was added to the western boundary of the Park, part of the river system that the park was set up to protect.
Production of 1800-2000 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate per year was envisaged, with open pit mining. There is the potential for further resources to be identified. The vein-type nature of the orebody makes it possible to use radiometric ore sorting so that the mill feed is effectively very high grade, which results in lower processing costs and a compact treatment plant. The total area disturbed by the proposed mine and treatment plant, including up to five small open cuts, would be about three square kilometres (300 ha), with the treatment plant occupying about six hectares. An additional 100 ha would be required for infrastructure. Capital cost of the project then was estimated to be $120 million.
Tailings would be in two streams, both as filter cake, to be buried in purpose-built disposal facilities or in a mined-out pit. The first stream would be a conventional residue from acid leaching, containing most of the ore's radioactivity. The second would be mixed gypsum and iron hydroxide from an iron precipitation stage. The other eventual waste would be some evaporite from process liquors which cannot be recycled. There would be no tailings dam.
Due to low international uranium prices and other outstanding approval requirements, the project was wound down in 1997 and then decommissioned and rehabilitated in 2002.
In July 2008 Cameco (70%) and Mitsubishi (30%) agreed to buy Kintyre for US$ 495 million, conditional upon state government approval for the sale and agreement with the Martu traditional owners. Cameco Australia is operating the project and a $9 million exploration program to confirm ore reserves commenced in July 2009, with feasibility study to follow, envisaging production of 2700 to 3600 t U3O8 per year for 15 years. In March 2011 indicated resources were updated to 25,600 t U3O8 at 0.49%, and inferred resources of 2400 t at 0.47%. In mid 2012 Cameco put the project on hold pending firmer uranium prices or lower development costs, but continued work on the environmental review process. Environmental approval for the project was recommended by the EPA in July 2014. In January 2013 Cameco wrote down the value of its investment in the project by $168 million.
The Yeelirrie deposit is between Wiluna and Leinster, WA, about 420 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie and close to the Goldfields gas pipeline. It is 130 km north of the existing infrastructure serving the BHP Billiton nickel mine at Mount Keith.
Western Mining Corporation (WMC) discovered the shallow and extensive deposit in 1972. It is reputedly the world's largest sedimentary calcrete deposit of its kind. The uranium mineralisation is carnotite (hydrated potassium uranium vanadium oxide).
In August 1978 Urangesellschaft Australia Pty Ltd bought for A$ 3 million a 10% interest in the deposit, but this was reacquired by WMC in October 1993. At the same time Esso was brought into the project and given 15% equity in return for a commitment to fund 80% of the Stage I feasibility study and pilot plant, then costed at A$ 21 million. Esso withdrew in May 1982 for commercial reasons and the share reverted to WMC. In 2005 ownership transferred to BHP Billiton Ltd.
The deposit extends over 9 kilometres, is up to 1.5 kilometres wide, up to 7 metres thick and with an average depth of about 7 metres of overburden. It comprises measured and indicated resources of 58,000 tonnes of uranium oxide with an average grade of 0.16%, JORC-compliant as of late 2014. It could support a low-cost mining operation with vanadium oxide by-product.
An Environmental Impact Statement was produced in 1978 and resulted in environmental approval from both state and Commonwealth governments. In the twelve years to 1983 WMC and its partners (then including Esso) spent a total of $35 million preparing to develop Yeelirrie as an open cut mine, including building and operating the pilot metallurgical plant at Kalgoorlie. A $320 million project was envisaged and sales contracts were being planned. However, the 1983 federal election and implementation of the ALP "three mines policy" meant that permission to negotiate sales contracts was withdrawn in March 1983. Plans were then abandoned, and WMC's attention focussed on developing Olympic Dam.
A new state Labor government was elected in 2002 with an ideological anti-uranium stance. Pursuant to this, the 1978 state mining agreement for Yeelirrie was revoked in March 2004. However, WMC Resources and its successor BHP Billiton retained the mining tenements and awaited future opportunities after undertaking rehabilitation of the site by the end of 2004.
In 2008 a change of state government reopened the possibility of development, and BHP Billiton listed it as an "outstanding long-term opportunity". It followed this with a new program to better define the ore resource and engage in community consultation. In May 2009 application to commence the process of environmental approval was lodged with the federal government, envisaging 2000 t/yr production from 2014. The government required a full environmental review and management plan (ERMP) to be carried out afresh. In February 2010 approval was sought for production at 3500 t/yr U3O8, after heap leach trials showed that this treatment (allowing higher production rate) would be uneconomic. In 2011 the project was wound down and the ERMP was deferred. In 2012 the project was sold to Cameco for US$ 430 million. Cameco said that economics of the project looked better than Kintyre’s.
In November 2014 Cameco requested the WA EPA to cancel the 2009 environmental application, and submit a new one involving production at 7500 t U3O8 per year, and to assess the application under new 2012 EPA procedures.
Wiluna: Lake Way, Centipede & Millipede, WA
Lake Way, Centipede and Millipede comprise the core of Toro Energy's Wiluna Uranium Project. The Lake Way deposit, close to Wiluna, 750 kilometres northeast of Perth in Western Australia, was discovered in 1972.* Lake Maitland was added in 2013.
* Delhi International Oil Corporation (53.5%) and Vam Ltd (46.5%) were joint venturers initially, but Asarco Australia Ltd bought out its partner and in 1994 became Wiluna Mines Ltd, whose main focus is on gold. Acclaim Uranium held the deposits in the 1990s but Nova Energy Ltd had them by 2006, and then merged with Toro Energy. In 2011 Toro purchased the uranium rights in the Millipede tenements, adjacent to Centipede, for $4.5 million.
Lake Way is a very shallow low-grade carnotite deposit in calcrete and clays. It averages 1.5 metres thick but ranges up to 5 metres below the surface. It was to have been mined by four or more pits over some 9 square kilometres, but plans were abandoned in 1983. The Centipede calcrete deposit is 12 km south of the Lake Way deposit. It consists of two or three lenses of 1 to 5 metre thick mineralisation containing carnotite through the carbonate matrix of a chemical delta where a 30 km drainage system enters Lake Way. Millipede is similar, but smaller. The three deposits are contiguous.
Toro Energy is undertaking feasibility studies for shallow low-cost open cut mining of these three deposits. The ore requires a carbonate high-temperature leach plant, at about 92ºC, alkaline heap leach having been tried and rejected. Recovery of 86% has been demonstrated in the pilot plant. In November 2013 Toro reported JORC-compliant measured and indicated resources of 13,900 tonnes U3O8 at 0.055% average with 200 ppm cut-off for the three deposits, 40% of this in Lake Way. It holds mining leases for Centipede and Lake Way, and awaits one for Millipede.
The Dawson-Hinkler Well deposit near Wiluna has a JORC-compliant indicated resource of 2800 tonnes U3O8 with average grade 0.037% U3O8, at 200 ppm cut-off, plus some inferred resources. The deposit is in the same palaeochannel as Centipede and Millipede deposits 20 km east. The deposit occurs over 15 km strike length, and selective mining was planned with 1:1 waste to ore strip ratio. In 2010 Toro Energy bought the deposit for A$ 6.2 million, thereby increasing its Wiluna resources by one quarter to 13,800 t.
Nowthanna is south of Meekatharra and has 4700 tonnes U3O8 at 0.04% inferred resource, but with a core of 0.08% material which could be economic to truck 150 km to the Wiluna treatment plant. It was purchased by Toro for $2 million in 2011-12.
In November 2009 Toro acquired the Firestrike tenements, 20 km SE of Centipede. No resource figures have been published.
Toro’s total regional resources for six deposits including Dawson-Hinkler, Nowthanna and Lake Maitland (see below) in November 2013 were 27,800 t U3O8 measured and indicated resources grading 0.052%, including a high-grade portion of 16,860 tonnes at 0.92% (with 0.05% cut-off). Including inferred resources, the project total comes to 34,770 t U3O8 grading 0.048%. Lake Maitland has made the Wiluna project a higher-grade and longer-life prospect.
Toro undertook a bankable feasibility study, and obtained government approval for a test pit in connection with it. In October 2012 the state government gave final environmental approval to the project, but federal government approval was deferred until April 2013. In February 2014 Toro applied for environmental approval for mining Millipede and Lake Maitland, using the planned processing plant at Centipede. An environmental scoping document on this was released in October 2014. It hopes to have the environmental assessment completed by mid-2016.
The priority will be mining the high-grade parts of the deposits, giving a feed grade of 0.088% U3O8. Centipede-Millipede will be mined first, then Lake Maitland, then Lake Way. Production of 900 t/yr U3O8 (770 tU/yr) over some 16 years is planned. Project cost is put at $316 million, and operating costs US$ 31/lb. Subject to successful finance and marketing arrangements, and a mining licence for Millipede, Toro anticipates first production from the Wiluna mine in 2016.
Environmental approval will later be sought for Dawson-Hinkler and Nowthanna. Later Firestrike and Albion Downs will come into the picture.
Lake Maitland, WA
Several shallow calcrete deposits are under agreement to be acquired by Toro Energy at Lake Maitland, 90 km SE of the Wiluna project. Carpentaria Exploration, Esso and then Acclaim Uranium evaluated these in the late 1990s. In 2006 Mega Uranium Ltd acquired Redport Ltd, which then held the deposit. In February 2009 it agreed to sell a 35% share of the project to the Itochu Corporation (10% of Japanese share) and Japan Australia Uranium Resources Development Co. Ltd. (JAURD), acting on behalf of Kansai Electric Power Company (50%), Kyushu Electric Power Company (25%) and Shikoku Electric Power Company (15%) for US$ 39 million. This option to acquire 35% continues.
In 2013 Toro Energy bought the project for $37 million in shares, which gave Mega a 28% share of Toro. (Toro’s subsidiary Nova acquired Mega’s subsidiary Redport.)
The deposit underlies the northern end of Lake Maitland itself. The mineralised zone is about 6 km long and 300-600 m wide, 1.5-2.0 m below the surface and average 1.7 m thick. Mine depth will average 4 metres. In 2013 Toro confirmed a NI 43-101 compliant indicated resource of 11,000 tonnes U3O8 grading 0.0555%, at 200 ppm cut-off, including 7100 tonnes higher-grade material at 0.0956% (500 ppm cut-off) which can be blended with Wiluna ore. The ore is very similar to that at Wiluna.
In September 2009 Mega was awarded a mining lease, and a definitive feasibility study was under way for a 750 t/yr operation. Toro’s immediate focus is to improve the geological understanding of the deposit, integrate it into the broader Wiluna Project mine scheduling and design work, optimise mine planning, and progress environmental approvals.
Theseus – Lake Mackay, WA
The Theseus prospect is part of Toro Energy's Lake Mackay Project, located 650 kilometres west of Alice Springs but inside the WA border. Toro is evaluating two palaeochannel mineralisation models with PFN tool: a Kazakhstan style “tabular model” and a Beverley style “roll front model”, both of which could be amenable to ISL mining at 100-125m depth. There are positive intersections and resource figures are expected in 2012, with 'exploration target' of 10,000 to 20,000 tonnes U3O8 at 0.04 to 0.05%. Good grades extend over several kilometres. Toro expects to boost Wiluna production from Theseus as an early stage operation.
Mulga Rock, WA
The Energy & Minerals Australia (EAMA) Mulga Rock polymetallic deposits 250 km north east of Kalgoorlie were discovered by PNC Exploration in 1979. They comprise the Ambassador, Emperor and Shogun deposits, the first being some 20 km from the others and the three covering some 7 square kilometres. Mineralisation consists principally of uranium, scandium, nickel and cobalt in lignite within a sedimentary basin, with uranium apparently comprising half or less of the recoverable value of minerals. In particular the orebodies are a major scandium resource. Ore thickness is 0.5 to 5 metres at depths of 35 - 45 m. In April 2012 EAMA announced a further deposit, Princess, close the Ambassador deposit and its proposed treatment plant.
PNC evaluated only the uranium content and identified an estimated resource of 46,000 t U3O8 at 0.095% U grade. In January 2009 EAMA announced an initial JORC-compliant inferred resource of 24,520 tonnes U3O8 averaging 0.055% at 200 ppm cut-off grade. This is now 27,100 t. Nearly one-third of this is higher-grade – 0.096% – in the Ambassador deposit, which EAMA now intends to mine first. The three main Mulga Rock deposits are hosted in lignite, though there is sandstone-hosted mineralisation beneath and near Ambassador. In addition there are large (totalling over 500 million tonnes) lignite deposits – one below and adjacent to Emperor, the other 12 kilometres south of Emperor. These lignites contain kerogens (a precursor to hydrocarbons).
The deposits were acquired by Eaglefield Holdings Pty Ltd in 2000, associated with Narnoo Mining. It undertook a preliminary feasibility study on the Ambassador deposit, which indicated that an open pit producing four metals including 200 tpa scandium oxide over ten years should be viable. The other two deposits could double mine life. Metallurgical studies show high recoveries of uranium and scandium using acid leach and solvent extraction. In 2006 the project passed to Energy & Minerals Australia Ltd when it acquired Narnoo Mining.
In 2010 EAMA said it was developing the Mulga Rock Deposits (MRD) within the Narnoo project area. A scoping study has been undertaken, centered on the Ambassador deposit, with production at 1200 t/yr U3O8 – half from open cut lignite and half from ISL of sandstones beneath, all at a cost of $24/lb. The ISL operation was to commence in 2014, and the production from lignite (with scandium, Ni, Co) two years later. Uranium would contribute 78% of the revenue, nickel 9%, cobalt 8% and scandium 2%.
Ponton, Double 8, WA
The Double 8 deposit is about 40km southwest of Mulga Rock. It was acquired by Uranio Ltd from Paladin in 2008 and has about 7800 tonnes U3O8 as an inferred resource estimate (JORC), with 200 ppm cut-off. The deposit was found by PNC Exploration in the mid 1980s, and further analysis of original cores was undertaken over 2008-09. It is in the Ponton palaeochannel system and within a nature reserve. In May 2008 Uranio merged with Manhattan Resources and became Manhattan Corporation.
The Ponton project is now centred on Double 8 and includes the contiguous Stallion South, Highway South and Ponton deposits in the same palaeochannel system.
Energia Minerals Ltd has reported a JORC-compliant inferred resource of 7100 t U3O8 at 0.031% (February 2014) for the Carley Bore deposit in the Nyang project, in the Carnarvon Basin south of Manyingee, and 150 km southeast of Exmouth. One-third of this is indicated resources. The mineralisation covers 1.9 km of palaeochannel in a roll-front deposit. Minatome and other companies have explored the area since 1978, and in 2006 Carbon Energy acquired the tenements, undertook further work to define the resource, then spun off its uranium assets in 2009 as Energia. Cauldron Energy in March 2013 made a takeover offer for Energia, and this was extended several times before failing.
This deposit was discovered in 1974 in the northern part of the Carnarvon Basin, 85 km south of Onslow in Western Australia.
It occurs in sandstones and siltstones at a depth of 60-110 metres, and seven mineralised rollfronts extend over 7 km but one third of the deposit occurs in 1.5 km2. Two pumping tests and one five-spot in situ leaching test have been run to evaluate whether the ore is amenable to in situ leaching and whether the leach solutions can be confined. Subsequent monitoring confirmed that there was no environmental contamination from these tests. Development was suspended due to federal Labor Government policy on uranium. The project is covered by three mining leases granted in 1989.
Following the transfer of Total's worldwide uranium assets to Cogema in 1993, the deposit became owned 92.3% by Afmeco Mining and Exploration Pty Ltd (AFMEX), a subsidiary of Cogema Australia, in joint venture with Urangesellschaft Australia Pty Ltd (7.7%). They sold the deposit to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paladin Resources in 1998 for A$ 3.25 million plus 1% royalty, which in 1999 was renegotiated to $1 million plus $0.75 million on project approval plus increased but capped royalties. Paladin had hoped to bring the deposit into production in about 2005, but has concentrated on its African prospects while WA government policies precluded uranium development.
The previous owners spent A$16 million and defined a resource of 7,860t U3O8 at 0.12% U3O8. A revised resource model was developed by Paladin through re-interpretation of the drill data, distinguishing three geological environments. The indicated resources determined from this work and updated in January 2014 (from 2012 drilling) stands at 7120 t U3O8 at 0.085% U3O8 and 4600 t U3O8 at 0.085% as inferred, with 250 ppm and 0.2m cut off. Completion of a field leach trial is seen as the next step towards development.
Cauldron Energy Ltd has announced JORC-compliant resources (two-thirds inferred) of 8455 tonnes U3O8 at three Bennet Well deposits in its Yanrey project area, 15 km southwest of Paladin's Manyingee and 125 km north of Energia's Carley Bore deposit. These are at 40-60 m depth and amenable to ISL mining. In June 2014 it announced $11 million funds from Chinese investors to define the resources. This was followed by $4 million from another Chinese investor. A takeover offer for Energia was declined in May 2014.
This deposit occurs in a zone averaging 2 metres thick in sandstone, 75 kilometres northeast of Derby in Western Australia. The deposit was held owned by Afmeco Mining and Exploration Pty Ltd (AFMEX), a subsidiary of Cogema Australia, but was sold to a wholly-owned subsidiary of Paladin Resources in 1998 for A$ 0.9 million plus 1% royalty. It is held under two exploration licence applications. The inferred resource calculated by AFMEX is 9950 tonnes of uranium oxide at 0.12 % U3O8, with cut off of 0.03%, though this does not conform to JORC criteria. In situ leaching appears to be the most likely method of extraction and some pump test work has been done.
Thatcher Soak, WA
This is a shallow paleaochannel deposit in WA, north of Mulga Rock and east of the main calcrete deposits such as Lake Maitland. It is primarily carnotite hosted within calcrete and silcrete less than 20 metres deep and extending over 8 km. The main part of the deposit is held by Uranex NL and June 2012 figures give 11.6 million tonnes averaging 425 ppm, hence 4900 tonnes contained U3O8 as a JORC-compliant inferred resource at 150 ppm cut-off. In August 2011 Shanghai Zhongfu Group agreed to pay $20 million for all Uranex's Australian assets, principally this, but then pulled out. Uranex is seeking buyers for this deposit as a ‘non-core asset’.
This is a project being explored by Mindax and is part of a broader Yilgarn-Avon Joint Venture with Quasar Resources (33%). It is about 300 km east of Perth in the wheatbelt region of WA.
Valhalla, Qld (Mount Isa Uranium Project)
This deposit was discovered 40 km north of Mount Isa about 1954 by a prospector. MIM took it over and sunk an exploration shaft. In the 1960s it passed to Queensland Mines Ltd which drilled it extensively and held it until 1992, when Summit Resources Ltd took over. A drilling program in 50:50 joint venture with Valhalla Uranium Ltd identified a significant deposit which remained open along strike to the north and south and at depth. The mineralisation is hosted within highly altered and mineralised tuff and shale, and includes some vanadium. In September 2006 Paladin Resources took over Valhalla Uranium Ltd. Indicated resources were then quoted as 16,900 t U3O8 and inferred resources 9000 t. In 2007 Paladin launched a full takeover bid for Summit Resources and ended up with 82% of it. Areva bought a 10.5% stake in Summit, blocking the full takeover.
Summit updated the JORC-compliant measured and indicated resource figures in January 2009 to 24,765 tonnes U3O8 (21,000 tU) at 0.023% cut-off and with average grade 0.089%(0.075%U). Inferred resources were 5860 t at 0.08%. It extends to 650 metres depth and along 1100 m strike but remains open at depth to the south. Some (<10%) of the uranium mineralisation is brannerite, which conventional treatment processes do not readily recover. The metallurgy is said to be complex, and as of mid 2013 the project appeared uneconomic.
Summit also holds the Andersons, Skal, Bikini and Mirrioola deposits nearby, which have some inferred resources. Total inferred resources there are 12,800 t U3O8, average grade 0.06%. Paladin holds 100% of Odin, 400 m north of Valhalla, and Valhalla North (through Fusion Resources). Odin has 4500 t U3O8 indicated resources and 3400 t inferred resources
Westmoreland, Qld (& NT)
This comprises the eastern end of a series of small prospects and deposits spread over about 50 kilometres straddling the Queensland - Northern Territory border, about 400 kilometres north of Mount Isa. Westmoreland is on the Queensland side of the border and its deposits extend over about 10 kilometres.
The first uranium mineralisation was discovered here in 1956, by a prospector with a Geiger counter. Late in 1956 the Bureau of Mineral Resources flew an airborne scintillometer survey and recognised anomalies in outcrops of the Westmoreland conglomerate held by Mount Isa Mines Ltd (MIM). Further work resulted in three mining leases being pegged over the Redtree deposit in 1959.
In 1967 Queensland Mines Pty Ltd obtained an exploration permit over the area surrounding the MIM-ZC leases and commenced a major drilling program which identified further Redtree deposits and the Huarabagoo deposit. In 1975 Queensland Mines formed a Joint Venture with Urangesellschaft Australia Pty Ltd, Anglo Australian Resources NL and IOL Petroleum Ltd, with the IOL share later being taken over by a CRA subsidiary. In the period 1976 to 1983 Urangesellschaft discovered the Junnagunna deposit while they were managing the Joint Venture. In 1985 Queensland Mines resumed management.
In 1990 CRA Exploration Pty Ltd (now Rio Tinto Exploration P/L) entered the Queensland Mines - Urangesellschaft Joint Venture and took over the exploration work with a view to earning equity in the Joint Venture. In 1997 Rio Tinto took over the whole project (it already had a 100% interest in the original MIM-ZC mining leases at Redtree), but relinquished the leases in 2000.
The main deposits comprise three mineralised pods adjacent to the Redtree Dyke and flat irregular masses further from it. Grades are 0.1-0.2% and 0.04-0.15% U3O8 respectively, with associated gold. The total inferred resource for Redtree, Huarabagoo and Junnagunna was about 22,000 tonnes contained U3O8. Three other prospects contain further small known resources. The "copper/gold/uranium" leases were apparently taken up by Tackle Resources after Rio Tinto relinquished them and in August 2004 the rights were bought by Canadian company Laramide Resources Ltd for US$ 150,000 plus some Laramide shares. In 2007 a scoping study suggested that production at about 1300 t/yr was feasible. In 2009 Laramide announced that the resource had been upgraded to 16,000 t U3O8 indicated at 0.089% and 7000 t inferred resources at 0.083% in line with Canadian NI 43-101 standard. A drilling program continued in 2011 to form the basis of a revised scoping study for the project. Early in 2013 the company was projecting 1800 t/yr U3O8 production from 2017.
Laramide also has a 2011 farm-in agreement with Rio Tinto for the Murphy deposit adjacent along strike southwest in the Northern Territory.
Ben Lomond, Qld
This deposit, some 50 kilometres west of Townsville, was discovered in 1975 by Total Mining Australia Pty Ltd. Mining leases were granted in 1980 and 1983. In 1994, following the transfer of Total's worldwide uranium assets to Cogema, the company changed its name to Afmeco Mining and Exploration Pty Ltd (AFMEX), which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Cogema Australia Pty Ltd. In July 1997 AFMEX agreed to sell the deposit to Anaconda Uranium Corporation of Canada for A$ 3 million plus 1% royalty, but due to state government policies Anaconda walked away from the deal after an initial payment. The deposit reverted to AFMEX.
A resource of about 6800 tonnes U3O8 with an average grade of 0.228% U3O8 and 4578 tonnes of molybdenum at an average grade of 0.149% has been delineated. A 1982 feasibility study proposed recovery of 4760 tonnes U3O8 from 0.246% ore.
Proposed mining of the deposit was to be primarily open cut, but with about one third of the orebody being underground mined, and with annual production of 500 tonnes of uranium oxide and 250 tonnes of molybdenum. The 1984 Environmental Impact Study was accepted by state and federal authorities, and a water monitoring program is continuing. Development was suspended due to both federal and state Labor Government policy on uranium. Anaconda intended to prepare a new feasibility study on the project based on "a more economic and environmentally friendly method of extracting the uranium", and to update environmental studies. The small Maureen deposit, 300 km inland, was to provide "operating synergy", and joint production facilities were envisaged. AFMEX prepared a revised Plan of Operations covering the final rehabilitation of the site. This plan was to be implemented once all regulatory approval had been obtained, but in 2005 the deposit was sold for $1 million to Uranium Mineral Ventures Inc, a subsidiary of Maple Minerals Corp of Canada. In January 2005 Mega Uranium Ltd agreed to acquire 100% of UMV and in February 2006 the Queensland government approved transfer of the leases to UMV.
In early 2008 NI 43-101 compliant indicated resources of 3600 t U3O8 at 0.27% and inferred resources of 1250t at 0.21% were quoted by Mega.
The small Maureen uranium deposit near Georgetown in north Queensland was bought in July 1997 by Anaconda Uranium Corporation for $325,000 plus royalties, but in 1998 reverted to its previous private owners. Measured and indicated resources are almost 3000 tonnes of U3O8grading 0.123% with 0.07% molybdenum as well as fluorite and accessible by open pit. Some $8 million was spent on the deposit in the 1970s. In 2005 the deposit was owned by Georgetown Mining Ltd and in August 2005 Mega Uranium Ltd acquired the rights to the deposit and surrounding mineralised areas.
Recent transfers to foreign ownership
As well as foreign equity in the companies with uranium mines, in recent years there has been increased interest in exploration companies. Some companies active in Australia are foreign-based, eg Uranium One, Cameco and Areva. The following table outlines some recent investment in Australian-based or established explorers, or particular projects, which have credible resources.
||Overseas investor, share acquired
||Value of share $A
|Sinostel, 60% of project
||Mitsui, 49% of deposit but withdrew in 2012
||Japanese consortium*, 20% of Uranium One
|Rio Tinto (seller)
||Cameco & Mitsubishi, 100% of deposit
||Itochu & JAURD**, 35% of project
||China Guangdong NPC, 70% of company
|BHP Billiton (seller)
||US$ 430 million
||Two Chinese investors
* Japan Uranium Management Inc (JUMI, comprising Tepco, Toshiba and Japan Bank for International Cooperation).
** Japan Australia Uranium Resources Development Co. Ltd. (JAURD), acting on behalf of Kansai Electric Power Company (50%), Kyushu Electric Power Company (25%) and Shikoku Electric Power Company (15%). Plus Itochu 10%.