Copper Discovery Improves Economics of High-Grade Canyon Uranium Mine


Uranium companies are struggling with the weakness in the uranium market; priced below $20/lb, U3O8 is at levels not seen in well over a decade. But Energy Fuels recently announced two diversification plays that could help insulate it from low uranium prices, and analysts are applauding the news.

1-Year Copper Price Chart. Source: Google Charts

Energy Fuels Inc. (EFR:TSX; UUUU:NYSE.MKT) announced the discovery of high-grade copper mineralization at its 100%-owned Canyon mine in Arizona. The company noted, "The Canyon Mine is the highest-grade uranium mine in the U.S., and based on uranium recovery alone, the Company expects production costs from the Canyon Mine to be competitive with the best underground uranium mines globally, including mines in Canada, based on industry-published cost estimates. However, now that extensive high-grade copper mineralization has been discovered within the deposit. . .the Company is now expanding the scope of the evaluation of the Canyon deposit to analyze recovering copper as a byproduct of uranium recovery, which has the potential to make the economics of the Canyon Mine even better."

Stephen P. Antony, Energy Fuels' president and CEO, stated, "The preliminary drilling results showing an extensive system of high-grade copper mineralization at the Canyon Mine are very exciting for Energy Fuels. We have long known that similar deposits in northern Arizona contain copper. However, the average grades in the five holes sampled thus far, with a total grade of nearly 9% copper and one intercept hitting copper grades over 31%, has far exceeded expectations based on past historical results at other mines in the region." Copper and uranium are found together elsewhere: BHT Billiton's Olympic Dam mine in Australia recovers copper and a uranium byproduct.

Antony also noted, "These are remarkable copper grades that one may only encounter a couple of times in a mining career," adding, "these results also have the potential to significantly improve the economics of the Canyon Mine, which is vitally important in today's weak uranium market."

Energy Fuels noted that it is also "finding small quantities of silver, zinc, and other minerals which have the potential to be recoverable as additional value-added byproducts." The company plans to release an updated technical report in the first quarter of 2017 that would include updated uranium resources as well as copper and any other resources identified.

The Canyon mine copper discovery has been well received by analysts. David Talbot of Dundee Capital Markets noted in an Oct. 27 research report that the "copper discovery has improved an already good high-grade Arizona breccia pipe uranium deposit, and transformed Canyon Mine currently under construction in Arizona from a uranium mine and into a copper mine." He added, "We estimate that copper may account for ~57% of in situ value versus 40% for U3O8 and 4% for silver at Canyon, based on current commodity prices, without much impacting mining. We believe this could help improve project economics by increasing the mix of saleable materials, boosting revenue, decreasing costs through by-product credits, and extended mine life."

Rob Chang of Cantor Fitzgerald stated on Oct. 27 that "The Canyon mine is already the highest-grade uranium mine in the U.S. and the discovery of high-grade copper may lead to valuable by-product credits that will further reduce the uranium cost production profile of this mine."

Analyst Colin Healey of Haywood Securities noted on Oct. 28, "There is currently no copper resource defined at Canyon, but the potential for a significant by-product credit is further revealed, with EFR intersecting copper mineralization both within the existing uranium resource area, as well as outside."

New Processing Contract

Energy Fuels followed the copper discovery news with the announcement that it has secured a new processing contract for its White Mesa mill in Utah. The company noted that it will "earn a fee for processing the alternate feed material and returning finished uranium product to the generator of the feed material. The fee is expected to cover the Company's processing cost and provide the Company with a reasonable margin."

CEO Stephen P. Antony commented, "The Company's ability to process alternate feed materials for the recovery of uranium at the White Mesa Mill, including the fee processing arrangement. . .is a very important aspect of the Company's business and revenue stream." He noted that the "new tranche of material was not previously in our business plan, so the expected cash-flows are timely for Energy Fuels during today's low uranium prices."

Rob Chang of Cantor Fitzgerald stated on Oct. 31 that "the White Mesa Mill is one of the only facilities in North America licensed and equipped to process and recycle alternate feed materials for the recovery of uranium." He noted that "Energy Fuels continues to aggressively pursue additional alternate feed opportunities for the Mill, as it is seen as an integral part of the overall business."

in an Oct. 31 report, Dundee's David Talbot noted that the contract size "is expected to be substantial and to serve as a new revenue source for 2017." He adds that "a total of 620,000 lbs U3O8 is contracted for next year, excluding this 'toll milling' contract. This will likely be enough for Energy Fuels to become the top American uranium producer, and it creates a base for growth when uranium prices rebound in coming years."

Want to read more Energy Report articles like this? Sign up for our free e-newsletter, and you'll learn when new articles have been published. To see recent articles and interviews with industry analysts and commentators, visit our Streetwise Interviews page.

1) Patrice Fusillo compiled this article for Streetwise Reports LLC. and provides services to Streetwise Reports as an employee. She owns, or members of her immediate household or family own, shares of the following companies mentioned in this article: None. She is, or members of her immediate household or family are, paid by the following companies mentioned in this article: None.
2) The following companies mentioned in this article are sponsors of Streetwise Reports: Energy Fuels Inc. Streetwise Reports does not accept stock in exchange for its services. The information provided above is for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any security.
3) Comments and opinions expressed are those of the specific experts and not of Streetwise Reports or its officers.
4) The article does not constitute investment advice. Each reader is encouraged to consult with his or her individual financial professional and any action a reader takes as a result of information presented here is his or her own responsibility. By opening this page, each reader accepts and agrees to Streetwise Reports' terms of use and full legal disclaimer. This article is not a solicitation for investment. Streetwise Reports does not render general or specific investment advice and the information on Streetwise Reports should not be considered a recommendation to buy or sell any security. Streetwise Reports does not endorse or recommend the business, products, services or securities of any company mentioned on Streetwise Reports.
5) From time to time, Streetwise Reports LLC and its directors, officers, employees or members of their families, as well as persons interviewed for articles and interviews on the site, may have a long or short position in securities mentioned. Directors, officers, employees or members of their families are prohibited from making purchases and/or sales of those securities in the open market or otherwise during the up-to-four-week interval from the time of the interview or article until after it publishes.

Get Our Streetwise Reports Newsletter Free

A valid email address is required to subscribe