Since the days of the Manhattan project, there have been three conventional rules for finding uranium mineralization in Saskatchewan: it occurs in the Athabasca basin, usually in the lowest sandstone unit that’s in contact with the basement rock; the best place to look is in the eastern part of the basin; and the shallow stuff has all been found, so you need to go deeper into the basin to find more.
Well, the new Patterson Lake South ultra-high-grade uranium discovery by joint-venture partners Fission Uranium (TSXV: FCU; US-OTC: FCUUF) and Alpha Minerals turns all that conventional wisdom on its head: the deposit is 8 km outside the southwestern edge of the basin in a relatively unexplored area, and it lies almost at surface, covered only by glacial overburden and a shallow lake.
And for this, we are awarding our 2013 “Mining Persons of the Year” to Fission president and COO Ross McElroy, the technical point man on the discovery, and Fission chairman and CEO Dev Randhawa, who has ably guided the company through not one, but two major corporate overhauls in a single year.
Ross McElroy is a veteran geologist with an uncanny ability to place himself at the heart of the discovery of high-grade Canadian mineral deposits. He earned a B.Sc. in geology from the University of Alberta in 1987, and has worked in the Athabasca basin for companies such as Cameco and Areva, as well as hunted for gold for BHP Billiton in the Hope Bay gold belt in Nunavut, and for diamonds at the Ekati mine in the Northwest Territories.
He came aboard as Fission Energy’s top technical brains in 2007, leading the team to two major uranium discoveries in three years — including Waterbury Lake — and working with high-profile JV partners such as South Korea’s KEPCO, Rio Tinto, JOGMEC, Uranium One and Denison Mines.
Fission Energy was sold to Denison Mines in early 2013, and Fission Uranium was spun out with a bit of cash and a half stake in the PLS project, with the other half held by Alpha.
The PLS discovery has its roots in an airborne geophysical survey flown in 2009 that used proprietary technology developed by Fission. It was able to detect a radioactive anomaly just south of what is now PLS. (Fission and Alpha had a oddball arrangement whereby operatorship at PLS would alternate every two years, with Fission as operator in 2008–2009 and 2012–2013, and Alpha as operator in 2010–2011, and at one time due to resume operatorship in 2014.)
Follow-up ground prospecting in 2011, spearheaded by Alpha’s Garrett Ainsworth, uncovered a train of high-grade uranium-bearing boulders that ultimately led back to PLS on the shore of a lake, 2 km away and under 50 metres of glacial overburden.
With Fission resuming operatorship in 2012, and after more ground geophysical work, drilling on the lake shore in November 2012 came up with the PLS discovery hole in what is now called Zone R00E.
In 2013, more ground geophysical work carried out under the direction of Fission’s vice-president of exploration Raymond Ashley, innovative lake-bottom radon surveys, and further drilling from barges resulted in the discovery of three more zones under the lake, stretching 1 km along strike from R00E.
For 2014, the challenge is to connect these four zones into a single orebody and calculate the first resource estimate.
Meanwhile, Fission’s CEO Randhawa was furiously working the phones and crafting the deals throughout 2013, first finessing a sale of Fission Energy to Denison and spinning out Fission Uranium, and then mounting an ultimately friendly takeover of Alpha Minerals that put to rest the operatorship uncertainty, ensured improved liquidity, and paved the way for a simpler sale of the company.
Randhawa is a consummate Howe Street mining promoter — smooth-talking, polished and connected, with a proven track record of delivering the goods for investors. (Since November 2012, Fission’s stock is up about 400%, during one of the worst times for mining juniors, and uranium juniors in particular.) He earned a bachelors degree in business administration from Trinity Western College of Langley, B.C. in 1983, and an M.B.A. from the University of British Columbia in 1985.