CANADIAN MINING PERSPECTIVES: New life for uranium mines in Elliot Lake?

If Toronto's PELE MOUNTAIN RESOURCES has its way, there will be new life for uranium mining in Elliot Lake, Ont. Th...
If Toronto's PELE MOUNTAIN RESOURCES has its way, there will be new life for uranium mining in Elliot Lake, Ont. The company is launching a pre-feasibility study on the heels of a positive scoping study for its 100%-owned project.

The town of Elliot Lake owes its existence to the uranium mining industry. It was built following the original discovery in 1948, but it was 1952 before deeper drilling intersected minable grades. For the next 40 years, the town produced most of the world's uranium. The names Stanleigh, Panel, Quirke, Stanrock and Denison are legend. Others, such as Spanish American, Can-Met, Miliken, Pronto, Buckles, Macnor and Nordic, earned their places in history, too. But the downturn in prices and the failure of the U.S. government to renew contracts precipitated the first layoff notices in 1990. Finally, the Stanleigh mine hoisted its last skip of ore at the end of June 1996. With the closing of the last mine, the town reinvented itself as a thriving tourist destination and mecca for retirement living.

Pele Mountain began acquiring its Elliot Lake property, 11 km east of the town, in 2005. The property was originally explored from 1953 to 1955 and again during the 1960s and early 1980s. The earliest work identified the Pardee Channel, which hosts the deposits. An adit was driven in the 1950s, and despite a great deal of drilling activity, no mine was developed.

The recent scoping study prepared by SCOTT WILSON ROSCOE POSTLE ASSOCIATES estimated an inferred resource of 30.0 million tonnes grading 0.05% U3O8 or 33.1 million lb of contained uranium oxide. The scoping study can be read at

The scoping study laid out plans for an underground mine accessed via ramp in the main conglomerate bed. About 40% of the ore will be trucked to the surface and treated in a conventional acid leach plant using sulphuric acid. The 60% that remains underground will be treated by leaching the broken material in the stopes. The uranium-bearing ("pregnant") solution will be pumped to the surface and combined with the pregnant solution from the mineral processing plant. Tails will be deposited subaqueously and wastewater will be treated to meet provincial regulations. A construction camp will be built at the site, but during operation Pele's 200 employees will commute from nearby communities.

Cost estimates are yet in the earliest stages, but the scoping study made some assumptions. Pre-production capital costs would be $51.7 million for the mine, rising to $55.1 million over the life of the project. Mine operating costs would be $27.32 per tonne mined for a combined milling and bioleach recovery strategy. The capital cost of building the mill as proposed would be $81.3 million. Mineral processing costs during operation would be $34.93 per tonne. To establish the tailings management area could cost as much as $799,000. Another $2.7 million will be spent on infrastructure.

As CMJ readers know, the permitting process for a new uranium mine is long and convoluted. Construction and operation must comply with federal fisheries, clean water and environmental protection acts. Provincial permits are required for the regulation of sewage, air emissions, water use, closure and waste generation. Environmental assessment and community consultation will be thorough.

There won't be a new uranium mine in Elliot Lake for a while - meaning years of work will be needed even if Pele Mountain decided tomorrow to develop a new producer. The plan to bring uranium mining back to Elliot Lake is intriguing. This is a project readers might want to follow.


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