VANCOUVER — With the Trump Administration in the U.S. unveiling earlier this year its list of critical minerals vital to the U.S. economy, the need to secure domestic supplies of uranium and rare earth elements gained new impetus among mineral developers and investors. In that spirit The Northern Miner presents its top-eight list of the largest U.S.-headquartered uranium and strategic minerals junior mining companies.
1. URANIUM ENERGY
Market cap: US$261 million
Texan uranium mining and exploration company Uranium Energy (NYSE-AM: UEC) comes in at the top of our list. The company is positioning itself to become one of America’s leading uranium suppliers, with a portfolio containing measured and indicated resources of 58 million lb. uranium oxide (U3O8). Inferred resources stand at 45 million pounds.
Uranium Energy’s Slick Rock development project in western Colorado has inferred resources of 69.6 million lb. vanadium and 11.6 million lb. U3O8.
Its fully permitted Reno Creek in-situ recovery project in Nevada is licensed for 2 million lb. per year of U3O8 production. The two properties — Reno Creek and North Reno Creek — hold a combined 26.3 million lb. U3O8 in measured and indicated resources.
Market cap: US$109 million
Colorado-based junior mining company Ur-Energy (TSX: URE; NYSE-AM: URG) is operating the Lost Creek in-situ recovery uranium facility in south-central Wyoming. The facility has churned out 2.6 million lb. U3O8 since 2014 and can produce 2 million lb. U3O8 per year.
The company’s newest project, Shirley basin in Wyoming, is just an hour away from Lost Creek. Ur-Energy bought Shirley basin from Pathfinder Mines in 2013. Pathfinder produced over 70 million lb. U3O8 from the 1960s until the 1990s, when low uranium prices forced the mine’s closure. Shirley basin holds measured and indicated resources of 8.8 lb. U3O8. Ur-Energy has submitted the mine application and is working on its other permits.
3. NIOCORP DEVELOPMENTS
Market cap: US$106 million
NioCorp Developments (US-OTC: NIOBF; TSX: NB) is developing its Elk Creek niobium-scandium-titanium project in southeast Nebraska. The project’s feasibility study estimated a US$2.3-billion after-tax net present value, 24.3% internal rate of return and 3.4-year payback period. The mine could produce for 32 years. Elk Creek reserves total 31.7 million tonnes grading 0.75% niobium oxide, 2.81% titanium oxide and 71.6 grams per tonne scandium oxide.
All three metals NioCorp plans to produce at Elk Creek were recently designated “critical” to national security by the U.S. government. The project has received widespread support from local, state and federal governments.
4. SCANDIUM INTERNATIONAL MINING
Market cap: US$39 million
Scandium International Mining (TSX: SCY, US-OTC: SCYYF) seeks to build the world’s first scandium-only mine in New South Wales, Australia, and the Nyngan scandium project is moving towards construction with government approvals in hand. Reserves total 1.4 million tonnes grading 409 grams scandium oxide per tonne. The project’s feasibility study showed the potential to produce an average of 37.7 tonnes of scandium oxide per year for 20 years, resulting in a US$177-million net present value and 33% internal rate of return.
The company also has a 100% interest in the Honeybugle scandium property, an exploration project next to its Nyngan project.
5. AZARGA URANIUM
Market cap: US$16 million
Azarga Uranium (TSX: AZZ; US-OTC: NIOBF) is attempting to become America’s next uranium developer. The company’s flagship development is the Dewey Burdock in-situ recovery uranium project in western South Dakota. Dewey Burdock has resources of 1.4 million tonnes grading 1.3 grams U3O8 per tonne. The company is awaiting state and federal approvals before advancing the project to construction.
Azarga also owns the Gas Hills and Juniper Ridge projects in Wyoming, the Centennial project in Colorado, the Aladdin deposit in Wyoming, four exploration projects in the U.S. and 70% of the Kyzyl Ompul project in the Kyrgyz Republic.
6. TEXAS MINERAL RESOURCES
Market cap: US$10 million
Texas Mineral Resources (US-OTC: TMRC) is an exploration-stage mining company focused on developing its flagship asset, the Round Top Mountain rare earth minerals project near Sierra Blanca, Texas. The company holds a 19-year renewable mining licence from the state of Texas, which holds a 6% net smelter return royalty on the project.
Texas Mineral Resources is working on updating its December 2013 preliminary economic assessment for Round Top Mountain. Based on current spot pricing, that assessment had a US$1.4-billion net present value after a US$293-million initial capital expense (67% internal rate of return). The initial mine life is estimated at 20 years, with a 1.5-year payback period.
7. RARE ELEMENT RESOURCES
Market cap: US$10 million
Rare Element Resource (US-OTC: REEMF) is awaiting a turnaround in market conditions to continue developing its flagship Bear Lodge rare earth elements project in northeast Wyoming. Citing low rare earth elements prices and financing difficulties, the company suspended permitting and licensing at the project in January 2016, immediately after receiving a positive environmental impact statement from the U.S. Forest Service.
An October 2014 prefeasibility study demonstrated a 28% after-tax internal rate of return based on rare earth element prices at the time. Bear Lodge has resources of 16.3 million tonnes grading 3% total rare earth oxide using a 1.5% cut-off grade.
8. WESTWATER RESOURCES
Market cap: US$10 million
Westwater Resources (NASDAQ: WWR) is focused on supplying the metals needed for the clean energy revolution. The company, formerly named Uranium Resources, holds mineral rights for a number of lithium and uranium deposits, mostly in the United States.
In April, Westwater acquired Alabama Graphite to refocus the company’s efforts towards supplying battery manufacturers with low-cost, high-quality graphite products. Alabama Graphite’s flagship asset, the Coosa project, is a 161 sq. km claim in a past-producing graphite region of Alabama with a resource of 71 tonnes grading 2.4% graphitic carbon. Coosa’s preliminary economic assessment had a US$320-million post-tax net present value and a 45.7% internal rate of return. Westwater plans to have the Coosa mine up and running by 2026.