'It is a really exciting place to be' - Aurora Energy Metals focuses on uranium
With the uranium spot price hitting $74 a pound, Greg Cochran, managing director of Aurora Energy Metals (ASX:1AE), said uranium is the field to be in.
In early November Cochran was interviewed by Kitco Mining at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC 2023) in Sydney, Australia.
“The whole storyline, the thematic around nuclear recovery, the resurgence in nuclear with this dawning realization that we cannot decarbonize without it, is a really exciting place to be at the moment,” he said.
The Aurora Energy Metals Project in southeastern Oregon has a uranium mineral resource of 50.6 million pounds U3O8. The company believes there is potential for two geologically separate deposits to be delineated and developed, providing economies of scale.
Cochran said the project has a “clear pathway to development”, meaning Aurora would not only build the mine in Oregon, but also the processing plant on private land in Nevada, less than 8 km away.
Interview edited for clarity.
Kitco Mining: What’s Aurora focused on?
Cochran: We’re focused on the USA's largest mineable measured and indicated uranium deposit, based in southeast Oregon.
Kitco Mining: What’s it like working in Oregon?
Cochran: Look, Oregon is known as a green state but of course when you're planning to mine uranium, we can make it even greener. Luckily for us as well Oregon actually has a lot of hydropower and so we can use that green-ness to our advantage when we power our mine.
Kitco Mining: Uranium seems like the field to be in right now.
Cochran: Absolutely, in fact overnight the spot price just reached $74 a pound so really encouraging. And I've just got back from the NEI’s annual international uranium fuels seminar and the whole storyline, the thematic around nuclear recovery, the resurgence in nuclear with this dawning realization that we cannot decarbonize without it, is a really exciting place to be at the moment.
Kitco Mining: What are some of the dynamics right now about uranium? You’ve been in the field for such a long time so why has uranium caught fire in 2023?
Cochran: I think it's important to differentiate between what's happened with previous price cycles in uranium and what's happening today. So historically, we talk about a period of time and my own view is that the market itself was never driven by rational economics. Now after my mining degree I did mining & mineral economics, and so I focused on that side of things to try and understand the key drivers. What we have today is driven by sound fundamentals, with countries that need to decarbonize. And the way to do that is with nuclear, but of course there's not much uranium production around so there’s this massive looming supply shortfall that we're working towards filling in the future.
Kitco Mining: Let’s go back to the project in Oregon. You’ve had it quite a few years. What’s the work that’s been done?
Cochran: Actually, this is one of those historical deposits which is not uncommon in uranium but was discovered in the ‘70s and a lot of work was done historically. Then as the cycle dropped it was kind of relinquished. My predecessors picked it up 10 years ago from my old company Uranium One and they took it in a slightly different direction in terms of some really encouraging beneficiation test work, which allows you to get a much more cost-effective processing solution which would drive down overall costs. One other point that's really important to recognize is we have what we've coined the phrase “clear pathway to development”. What that means is we'll not only build the mine in Oregon, but we'll build the plant on private land in Nevada less than 8 kilometres away, which has direct access to an existing hydroelectricity-powered power line. So it's a unique solution that opens up the opportunity for a zero- or a low-carbon mine, producing uranium that therefore also contributes to the overall decarbonization picture.
Kitco Mining: How are you funded?
Cochran: For the moment sufficiently funded to do the work program that we are currently undergoing that will take us through to the middle of next year, which incorporates the scoping study likely completed in Q1 next year, as well as all the environmental baseline studies for what's called an exploration plan of operations.
Kitco Mining: Lastly, milestones over the next 12 months.
Cochran: We're doing metallurgical test work to feed into the scoping study and those results would come out over the next three to four months. Then the scoping study itself, trade-off evaluations like transport studies, water supply and power supply as a component to the scoping study. Wrapping that all up with the big release on the scoping study, as well as ongoing specific targets around our permitting progress and the environmental and cultural heritage baseline studies.
Kitco Mining's coverage of IMARC 2023 was sponsored by White Noise Communications.