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Botswana rapidly emerging as uranium power in Africa, major South Korean project and don’t forget Pine Creek

An Australian explorer said today that one of Africa’s most prolific uranium plays is shaking off the tag that it was the uranium province that was missed and is starting to emerge as a potentially significant greenfields province. Addressing the first day in Adelaide of the Paydirt 2012 Uranium Conference, Impact Minerals’ Managing Director, Dr Mike Jones, said Botswana had achieved in little more than five years, a reputation now as one of the best modern era uranium provinces on the African continent – and was starting to deliver substantial exploration upside.“It was very much a case of the uranium province that was missed, with some prospects identified in the 1970s but no exploration between 1979 until as recent as 2006,” Jones said. “With sand cover obscuring airborne radiometric responses, Botswana was ‘off the radar’ – until the 2006 discovery of the Lethlakane deposit – now a 261 Mlb uranium oxide resource at a grade of 150 ppm,” he said.

“Impact has confirmed the potential of the rest of eastern Botswana by the discovery of three other modest deposits including Lekabolo and of a similar style to Lethlakane. As well, Impact has demonstrated the potential for a spectrum of uranium mineralisation styles from Kalahari calcrete palaeochannels, Karoo hosted deposits and in our new Mahalapye Block, the potential for Athabasca, IOCG-U and Rossing-type uranium deposits in both sedimentary rocks and granites.”

This modern day exploration renaissance delivered for Impact the recent Red Hills discovery which Dr Jones says is regarded by the company as clearly “a major system”.

“Red Hill and its companion discoveries are all in terrain not unlike the challenging Kalahari sediments of Namibia immediately west of Botswana and which hid the major Husab discovery for 35 years,” Jones said. “This discovery demonstrates the untapped but emerging modern day uranium potential for Botswana.

“Red Hill is generating increasing uranium indicators in all directions and will now be a prioritised drilling focus for Impact in 2012, as the potential for high grade uranium results there is high.

“This potential includes an untested strike length of at least 100 km – all 100% owned by Impact – so we have considerable belief in Botswana’s potential to continue to deliver discoveries with world-class potential,” Jones said.

Another speaker at the conference, the ASX-listed Australian developer of South Korea’s first uranium mine says that country is in a race against time to lock down further security of supply as the world’s 10th largest economy finds itself losing ground in the buyers’ market to surging energy consumers elsewhere.

Stonehenge Metals Managing Director, Richard Henning, said South Korea was currently the fifth largest producer of nuclear power in the world. “It knows however it is in a buying and supply race that is the survival of the fittest. Most forecasters expect it to slip to eighth or ninth largest consumer as early as 2030, losing ground to China, the US, Russia, France, Japan and the Ukraine,” he said.

“That higher demand from other countries means South Korea will be competing for uranium supply in a marketplace where the current uranium shortfall is being met by secondary supply which will not be available after the end of next year. After that, the supply shortage gap will simply get larger so South Korea has commenced an aggressive program of securing uranium supplies for both domestic needs and foreign backed power construction plant contracts.

“With 12 nuclear plants to be commissioned by 2021, of which six are currently under construction, South Korea will need more than 19.6 Mlb/y of U₃O₈ annum by 2020 – almost double its current consumption. This will lift the level of domestic nuclear plant supplied energy from 40% to 60% of South Korea’s total power consumption by 2030.”

Henning said that against this backdrop, South Korea understood uranium, had established a mining law with no royalties, black empowerment requirements or native titles issues and offers 25 year mining rights.

Stonehenge’s main Daejon uranium project, a 65 Mlb Inferred resource with an average grade of 320 ppm, can potentially supply 25% of South Korea’s uranium requirements. “We have a key goal of upgrading the resource through further drilling and acquisition while previous metallurgical and subsequent verification work has shown that Daejon can consistently deliver 90% uranium extraction. Importantly, Daejon has the potential to be developed in a country with low sovereign risk and which lists uranium as one of its top six minerals of national significance. That will also assist our public interface when we shortly launch a comprehensive community engagement program, as not ever South Korean supports nuclear energy or uranium mining.”

Back in Australia, the untapped prospectivity for uranium around the Pine Creek region of the Northern Territory should not be under-estimated according to exploration company, Thundelarra Exploration. Its Managing Director, Brett Lambert, told the conference the region had played host to uranium mining for nearly 60 years from the original Rum Jungle discovery.

However, parts of the district had not yielded discoveries until more recent times – including the company’s Thunderball prospect discovery in the Hayes Creek tenement area and which has since generated bonanza grades in the thousands of parts per million.

“Our recent work has found surface samples at Hayes Creek of up to 17% uranium oxide which is a very strong indicator value. It is difficult at times however to generate resource estimates as while the grades we encounter can be quite high, the mineralisation tends to be of a nuggety style.

“While this means a single deposit may not in itself be a standalone mine, nonetheless a number of small close proximity deposits can contribute to a single mining operation best able to service the mining of these nuggety deposits.

“It is our belief that the area remains lightly explored and that there is significant potential for further uranium discoveries, particularly in some of the major fault systems through the province.”

Thundelarra owns more than 3,500 km2 of tenements in the Pine Creek region, with a 50 km strike length extending to the north and south of the Thunderball discovery.