Ross McElroy, CEO and
Fission Uranium Corp.
“Even though we have two separate deposits with two separate owners at this point, we see some advantages by working with NexGen sharing major infrastructures and facilities.”
Could you give us some background information on Fission Uranium and its predecessor companies? We have been uranium explorers for a long time. Our founder, Dev Randhawa, started with a company called Strathmore in the 1990s, focused on the U.S. with some grassroots exploration in the Athabasca Basin. In 2007, they split off a new company called Fission Energy, and that is when I joined the group. We were successful fairly early on: In 2010 we made a new discovery called the Jay Zone on our Waterbury property, on the eastern side of the Athabasca Basin, near McClean Lake and Cigar Lake. We sold that asset to Denison Mines in 2013.
At around that same time, we were exploring the southwest side of the basin in an unexplored area, trying a few novel geological ideas that no one had really considered before. We made a discovery on our PLS project by detecting high-grade uranium boulders with sensitive radiometric equipment housed in a small airplane. In the fall of 2012, we found the source of those boulders – that was the discovery of the Triple R deposit. The PLS project was excluded from the transaction with Denison, and thus with the new company, Fission Uranium Corp, our flagship property became the PLS project which hosted the Triple R deposit.
What are the key advantages of Triple R? Triple R is one of the best deposits in the Athabasca Basin. Not only is it large, with 135-140 million pounds of contained uranium, but also it is high grade, averaging around 2% U3O8. What is unique about Triple R is that it is very shallow, just 50 meters below the surface, and hosted entirely in stable basement rocks. Our discovery really prompted a stampede of others to come and explore the area, and NexGen subsequently discovered the Arrow deposit nearby. This part of the Athabasca Basin is now a major new uranium district.
We began economic studies in 2015, and in 2019 we completed a pre-feasibility study (PFS) that determined that the best way to move the project forward is to have an underground mine as it allows for lower capital investment and lower construction timelines. The estimated capex at Triple R is C$1.2 billion for a three-year construction time, and once we are operating, the payback is extremely quick at around 2.5 years, with operating costs at US$7.19/lb, which would make us one of the lowest cost operators in the world. Similarly to NexGen’s Arrow deposit, the capex is significant. Would it not make sense for Fission and NexGen to share some of the infrastructure, such as the mill? These projects in the Athabasca Basin are all capital intensive because the area does not have a lot of infrastructure. Ultimately, we see some advantages by working with NexGen sharing major infrastructures and facilities. Even though we have two separate deposits with two separate owners at this point, there would be many synergies that could be created. What is the potential for the Triple R deposit to grow as it moves towards feasibility? The Triple R deposit reserves can still grow substantially. About 30% of the resource is classified as inferred and thus not yet part of the mine plan. Based on past work, we are confident that we will be able to convert these inferred resources virtually on a one to one basis to the indicated category. This would potentially allow us to extend our current mine-life for the underground case from the current seven years to around 10 years. Also, there is a lot more exploration potential as many zones are still open and so much of the property is yet untested. How important is it for Fission to have CGN on board as shareholders and with an offtake agreement in place? At the end of the day, all uranium producers need to secure contracts from buyers. We are fortunate to have a partnership with CGN, one of the two major Chinese state-owned utilities. China is where the future growth of the nuclear sector will be coming from. CGN already owns a 20% interest in Fission Uranium and we have an off-take agreement in place for up to 35% of future production. We are the only investment that CGN has made in North America, so it is a great validation of the quality of the Triple R deposit. What role do you expect China to have on promoting uranium demand? China is a growing economy. Not only do they need additional power, but they also need to convert their current energy matrix to tackle pollution. China has around 55 reactors operating now, but in a few years it seems likely that they will surpass the U.S., which currently has the largest fleet with around 100 reactors. Using a rule of thumb, each large 1,000 MW reactor consumes approximately 450,000 pounds of uranium every year. If they build another 100 reactors, that is another 45 million pounds of uranium required each year. The Chinese growth story is huge, but other countries are also growing, like India, for instance.
Also, the Chinese are pushing for the development of small modular reactors, and that is going to be a game changer for our industry. For example, remote communities will be able to have reliable sources of power, not just in China but also in many other countries. What will be the next steps for Fission Uranium and the Triple R deposit? The next milestone for us will be undertaking the environmental assessment process. So we need to complete the feasibility study for that and thus have all the economic parameters to have a framework for negotiation with the First Nations and the local stakeholders in the area. This year we will also begin a project description file with the provincial and federal regulators to work on the eventual permitting and licensing. We estimate four to five years to complete the full feasibility and environmental assessment and potentially be in production in 2027.