“The purpose of the test-mining program is to evaluate different approaches that selectively target high-grade vanadium zones, thereby potentially increasing productivity and mined grades for vanadium and decreasing mining costs per pound of V2O5 and U3O8 recovered,” according to a statement from the company. “After three weeks of test mining and evaluation, the company is discovering areas of high-grade vanadium mineralization that were not previously mined due to the relatively lower uranium grades in the material.
Initial assay results look promising. “Company personnel blast and remove the mineralized material from the mine, and transport it to an ore pad on the mine surface using a seven-ton truck. After the material is dumped on the stockpile pad, representative samples from various locations in each seven-ton pile are sampled randomly. The company believes that blasting, mucking, transporting and dumping adequately mixes the material in each pile, allowing for representative sampling. Approximately 10 pounds of sample material is collected from each seven-ton pile.” According to the company, all samples are analyzed at the company’s White Mesa Mill near Blanding using titration chemical analysis for vanadium and spectrophotometric analysis for uranium.
“Historically, when uranium was targeted for production at the La Sal Complex, the recovered vanadium-to-uranium ratio was approximately 5-to-1. By targeting vanadium, the samples...show a ratio of over 16-to-1 vanadium-to-uranium, including an average vanadium grade of 1.675 percent and an average uranium grade of 0.102 percent U3O8,” said the statement. Assuming average historic recoveries at the White Mesa mill of approximately 95 percent uranium and 70 percent vanadium, using these results, the company expects to recover approximately 23.5 pounds of V2O5, and 1.9 pounds of U3O8, per ton of the mineralized material that has been mined to date under this program. As of last week, the uranium spot price was $27.75 per pound, and the vanadium price was $24.80 per pound.
“While not intended to represent a resource or reserve estimate or economic evaluation, this test-mining program is demonstrating two key points to the company. First, high-grade vanadium associated with lower grade uranium exists in the La Sal mine complex. This mineralized material was either not detected in the past or not mined due to its relatively lower uranium grade. Second, the company now has the technology to identify this mineralization, which was not available historically. This material is attractive at current vanadium prices, and would have been attractive during previous mining campaigns had the vanadium grades been identified at those times. These two key points confirm the company’s belief that further study is required to determine the extent of this additional mineralized material at the La Sal Complex and other uranium/vanadium mines owned or controlled by the company, and the impacts such additional mineralized material may have on the mining costs per pound of V2O5 and U3O8 recovered from these mines,” the statement continued.
The company plans to continue the test-mining program and recover, sample and evaluate a minimum of 5,000 tons of mineralized material. The company also plans to conduct additional surface exploration drilling that targets high-grade vanadium mineralization at the La Sal Complex. Energy Fuels also expects to resume vanadium production from tailings pond solutions (which result from past mineral processing operations) at the White Mesa mill in November, at an expected rate of approximately 200,000 to 225,000 pounds of V2O5 per month, up to a total of approximately 4 million pounds of V2O5, subject to market conditions, costs and recoveries.
Said Mark S. Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels, “Today, Energy Fuels is pursuing a number of exciting vanadium-related opportunities. In addition to resuming production from existing pond solutions at the White Mesa mill in a few weeks, we are looking to build a longer-term vanadium production profile at our uranium/vanadium mines. While we’re still in the early stages of this vanadium test-mining program, we wanted to show the market some of the positive results we’re already seeing thus far. As we suspected, there may be large zones of high-grade vanadium mineralization in the La Sal Complex that were never mined in the past, because they contain relatively lower-grade uranium mineralization. If we continue to see similar results as the program advances, it is our hope that we can mine the La Sal Complex in a manner that targets vanadium during periods of elevated vanadium prices, even during periods of lower uranium prices. The ability to target higher-grade vanadium zones, separately and independently from higher-grade uranium zones in these mines may be, we believe, a true paradigm shift in the way these mines can be mined going forward. We will continue to pursue our test-mining program, and we look forward to providing the market with additional results in the future as these become available.
Chalmers boasted, “Energy Fuels is pleased to be the only company in the U.S. that can provide shareholders with near-term exposure to both vanadium and uranium production, as market conditions warrant. The company’s White Mesa mill is the only mill in the United States capable of recovering vanadium from conventionally mined ores, and Energy Fuels-owned or controlled mines are the only vanadium mines that currently have access to the White Mesa mill.”
The company also announced that national forest officials had issued their final approval for the La Sal Complex Plan of Operations Amendment. “The company is now fully authorized by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to move forward with the expansion of mining operations, exploration drilling, and vent shaft construction at the La Sal Complex. This follows the February 2018 issuance of the Environmental Assessment, Decision Record/Notice, and Finding of No Significant Impact approving the expansion of a large portion of the La Sal Complex, pending certain conditions including having the required reclamation bond in place. “All of those conditions have now been fully met,” company officials said.
Energy Fuels is a leading integrated U.S.-based uranium mining company, supplying U3O8 to major nuclear utilities. Its corporate offices are in Denver, and all of its assets and employees are in the western United States. Energy Fuels holds three uranium production centers: the White Mesa mill, the Nichols Ranch processing facility in Wyoming, and the Alta Mesa project in Texas. The White Mesa Mill is the only conventional uranium mill currently operating in the U.S., and has a licensed capacity of over 8 million pounds of U3O8 per year.
The company produces vanadium as a by-product of its uranium production from certain of its mines on the Colorado Plateau, as market conditions warrant.