US-based Energy Fuels Inc has entered into an agreement to acquire the Prompt Fission Neutron (PFN) technology and equipment, including all its related intellectual property, from GeoInstruments Logging LLC.
The deal will give the uranium producer the exclusive right to use, licence, and service this particular PFN technology globally, which Energy Fuels says is critical to successful uranium production, particularly from many in-situ recovery (ISR) deposits, as it more accurately measures downhole in-situ U3O8 (uranium oxide) ore grade, versus traditional Total Gamma and Spectral Gamma methods.
The PFN equipment and technology to be acquired by Energy Fuels includes four PFN tools; nine gamma tools with point resistivity, spontaneous potential and deviation; two low-mileage, heavy-duty logging trucks with logging and associated equipment; power supplies, computers, communication, and other technology; and all associated intellectual property, including all internal details of the tools, circuit board diagrams, firmware code, software, manuals, instructions, patents and the sole right to utilise and licence the acquired PFN technology globally.
The total consideration to be paid by Energy Fuels to GIL will be $500,000 in cash, with closing of the transaction expected to occur within around two weeks, after completion of a due diligence inspection of the equipment.
Energy Fuels currently has some PFN equipment in various states of repair, which it has used for its mining operations in the past, as do other companies in the US and around the world.
“With the acquisition of this additional PFN equipment and technology from GIL, Energy Fuels will not only be able to utilise the additional equipment to ramp-up production from its ISR properties more quickly and efficiently in the event of improved market conditions, it will also secure the ability to service, repair and maintain PFN equipment currently held by the company and others, as well as licence this technology to others in the future,” it said.
PFN technologies have played an important part in discovering, and bringing to production, some of the best uranium deposits in the world, according to Energy Fuels, including the Beverly and Four Mile uranium mines currently operating in South Australia. Energy Fuels’ Alta Mesa ISR project in South Texas, which produced nearly 5 MIb of U3O8 between 2005 and 2012, also deployed PFN technology while in production, the company said.
Many geologically younger ISR uranium deposits in the US, and particularly Texas, have a certain degree of disequilibrium, whereby the radioactivity measured in drill holes using traditional Total Gamma and Spectral Gamma methods does not accurately correspond to ore grade, due to the continued decay of uranium daughter products including potassium, thorium, lead and bismuth relative to radium, a significant gamma emitter, according to Energy Fuels.
“Traditionally, disequilibrium is calculated using mud rotary coring techniques and laboratory gamma and alpha spectrometry; all of which are expensive and time consuming,” it said. “Without accurate in-situ measurement of uranium, significant high-grade ore has been missed using the traditional downhole techniques.”
PFN technology solves this issue, Energy Fuels says, by instead using neutron activation to detect uranium in drill holes. The PFN tool creates very fast neutrons (14 MeV) and fires 108 neutrons per second. Therefore, the neutrons emitted by the PFN tool excite, at an atomic level, in-situ uranium atoms in the drill hole, creating fast (epithermal) neutrons and slow (thermal) neutrons.
The ratio of epithermal to thermal neutrons is proportional to uranium, allowing the U3O8 ore grade to be accurately calculated, according to the company. This provides a relatively inexpensive and instantaneous means for accurate assaying in-situ ore grades over large areas, while allowing for accurate orebody mapping, resource estimation, and wellfield planning, it said.
Mark Chalmers, President and CEO of Energy Fuels, said the acquisition will further solidify the company’s position as the leading uranium miner in the US, especially in the ISR space.
“We believe that acquiring PFN technology is now more important than ever, as we believe a revival of the US uranium industry is imminent,” he said.
On April 23, the US Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) described why the US needs healthy uranium and nuclear fuel industries in order to secure US energy and national security and prevent Russia, China and other geopolitical rivals from gaining control of global – and US – nuclear markets, he said.
“We believe the NFWG report represents the strongest US government commitment to supporting US uranium miners in decades,” Chalmers said.
The NFWG report also provided actions the US government can take to support domestic uranium mining, including creating a US uranium reserve, and potentially increasing the size of the American Assured Fuel Supply, according to Chalmers.
“In response to the NFWG Report recommendations, President Trump has already announced a budget that seeks $150 million per year over the next 10 years (totalling $1.5 billion over that timeframe) to establish a strategic uranium reserve intended ‘to provide additional assurances of availability of uranium in the event of a market disruption’,” he said.