Mining Technology Australia
Exposed: The World’s Best Kept Uranium Secret
Perhaps the White House flap as to whether or not Saddam Hussein’s government tried to buy uranium ore from the country of Niger was the best publicity Niger has had about its uranium production for more than two decades. How many geologists know that the Republic of Niger ranks fourth, behind Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan, in terms of the quantity of uranium annually produced worldwide? Named after the river which runs through it, Niger produces nearly four times the uranium currently mined in the United States. More uranium is mined in Niger than in Russia, South Africa, India, China, Brazil, Ukraine Namibia or Uzbekistan. In fact, if you added up the total amount of uranium mined in South Africa, China, India, Brazil, Czech Republic and the Ukraine for 2004, Niger would trump the combined production of those six countries. Until Dr. Jon North came along, uranium mining was pretty much monopolized by Cogema and a consortium that includes Spanish and Japanese interests.
“This is the fourth largest uranium producer in the world,” raved an excited Dr. North into his cell phone during our taped interview. “Niger has never had an entrepreneurial and nimble junior mining company ever explore for uranium. And this is the first one.” North was talking about Northwestern Mineral Ventures (TSX: NWT; OTC BB: NWTMF).
“Imagine if Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan having never had a junior company looking for uranium. It’s absolutely absurd to even consider the concept.” The Republic of Niger supplies about 9 percent of the world’s annual production to meet the growing need for uranium to fuel the world’s nuclear reactors. According to the IAEA-NEA Red Book of 2003, the sub-Saharan Niger ranked #4 behind Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada for total uranium reserves. In the 2005 update, it fell to seventh place. It may be that this country is under-explored. In 1981, Niger produced a peak of 4366 tonnes of uranium. As with others, mining production plummeted with the spot price of uranium during the 1980s and 1990s. The slump hit the country hard because Niger depends upon uranium for more than 30 percent of its exports, more than $100 million. Five percent of the country’s tax revenues come from uranium mining.
Dr. North discussed how he came to obtain concessions for both his company, North Atlantic Resources (TSX: NAC) and Northwestern Mineral Ventures, in which he serves as a director and helps guide geological colleague and president Marek Kreczmer. “I traveled around the Sahara Desert twice on field trips with a local Niger geologist before I decided to apply for permits. When I did this in 2004 with the minister of mines, he said to me, ‘You know, you’re the first person to ever do this, and the only people who have done this are energy companies or governments.’ So, I told him I would like to apply for two permits.” North obtained two for Northwestern Mineral Ventures and another for North Atlantic Resources. Salt Tectonics the Key to Uranium in Niger North explained, “We selected the projects based on the geologic ingredients that we felt were important in the control and distribution in the uranium, such as, but not limited to, northwest trending fault corridors, northeast trending fault corridors, and inliers of stratigraphy that are popping up through younger parts of the stratigraphy.” According to North, the salt structures are the key to finding uranium in the Republic of Niger. “The northeast and northwest faults, and the inlier there, are all salt-related structures,” North remarked. An inlier is an area or formation of older rocks completely surrounded by younger layers.
“For decades, the oilfield people have understood, emphasized and completed research on salt, the deposition and then the movement of salt through stratigraphic sequences,” North pointed out. Salt is very common but it doesn’t last very long in stratigraphy and it escapes, North explained. “When it escapes, it forms walls and diapirs (an anticlinal fold where the salt has pierced through the more brittle overlying rock).” Oil exploration geologists pay attention to these because they tend to form permeability barriers to oil and gas deposits. North is interested in them for a different reason, “We noticed that the salt diapirs, where they escaped through the sequence in Niger, coincided with the distribution of uranium deposits.” Uranium in the Republic of Niger is mined by open pit because of the sandstones. “These are redox deposits,” North noted. “They tend to be associated with reduced layers and structures, such as the former salt diapirs and faults in the stratigraphy. At the time, we didn’t really understand why we were doing that. We just knew there was an association with uranium deposits and these structures in Niger.
” That appears to have made Dr. North’s job a walk in the park, or in this case, a walk in the desert. How do you inexpensively explore concessions of 2,000 square kilometers each? That’s about 24 miles and 30 miles each, both in the desert. “If you do the target selection carefully, and you stick to the salt diapirs, those really narrow down the search,” North revealed. “When we do our first multi sensor mag and radiometric survey, which will happen in the next couple of months, we will map out those structures and features, and look for radiometric anomalies associated with them. When we have that data, we’ll have at least 50 drill targets on those projects.” There appear to be no scarcity of drill targets on the concessions. Without that data, North believed he could have picked out ten high quality drill targets, just from the geology map. “They show up as circular bull’s eyes on geology maps,” North noted excitedly.
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