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Orano and Denison eye uranium mining method alternative with use of SABRE

Orano Canada Inc and Denison Mines Corp, the partners in the McClean Lake Joint Venture (MLJV), have reported the successful completion of a five-year test mining program deploying the patented Surface Access Borehole Resource Extraction (SABRE) mining method on the McClean Lake property in the Athabasca Basin of Canada.

The final stage of a five-year field test was completed from May to September 2021 with four mining cavities successfully excavated to produce approximately 1,500 t of high-value ore ranging in grade from 4-11% U3O8. The program was concluded with no safety, environmental or radiological incidents and confirmed the ability to achieve key operating objectives associated with the test program – including targets for cavity diameter, rates of recovery, and mine production rates, the companies said.

Most of the ore recovered from the test mining program has now been transferred to the McClean Lake mill and is expected to be processed for the MLJV by the end of the year.

SABRE is a non-entry, surface-based mining method that uses a high-pressure water jet placed at the bottom of a drill hole to excavate a mining cavity. The cuttings from the excavation process are then air lifted to surface, separated and stockpiled. SABRE is viewed as a method that could potentially allow for the economic access to relatively small high-grade orebodies in the Athabasca Basin that are either too small or too deep to be mined economically by open-pit and/or underground mining methods.

This test represents an important milestone for the SABRE technology, they said.

Based on the success of the 2021 program, the partners plan to evaluate the potential use of this innovative method for future mining operations at their jointly-owned McClean Lake and Midwest properties. The MLJV is owned by Orano Canada (77.5% and operator) and Denison (22.5%). The Midwest joint venture is owned by Orano Canada (74.83% and operator) and Denison (25.17%).

David Cates, Denison’s President & CEO, said: “With this test result, SABRE has demonstrated that it is capable of mining high-grade uranium ore in the Athabasca Basin region. Orano, as operator of the MLJV, has diligently advanced the necessary R&D efforts as part of a long-term vision for developing a mining method that could benefit our joint venture. We are appreciative of Orano’s efforts to ensure the safe and successful development of this patented technology and look forward to jointly exploring its potential applications in the context of improving uranium markets.”

SABRE, the companies say, is unique in that the mining method can be selective and scalable, which has the potential to provide superior flexibility when compared to conventional mining methods and is, thus, ideally suited to ever changing uranium market conditions – coming with a potentially short production ramp up of months instead of years.

“The SABRE method is considered environmentally friendly as a result of its less intrusive nature and potentially smaller surface footprint when compared to conventional open pit or underground mining methods,” they added. “Reduced water usage and power consumption also contribute to potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improved sustainability. Additionally, as a non-entry mining method, radiological exposure for mine workers is minimised.”