Friday, October 31, 2008

Western lands uranium gopher 11/01/08

Mining media reports and press releases for useful stuff.

gopherThis is an edited version of an article originally published in Fuel Cycle Week, V7N301 on 10/31/08 by International Nuclear Associates, Washington, DC

North Dakota mulls local taxes on uranium mining

The North Dakota Association of Counties is working on a study of local option taxes on future uranium mining to mitigate the costs of road maintenance and other infrastructure potentially impacted by the mines. Terry Traynor, assistant director at the association, told the Associated Press on Oct 12, “Just about every state that had or now has uranium exploration has some sort of uranium tax structure.”

Uranium prospecting is now taking place in six counties in North Dakota. Traynor said local officials there want to deal with the issue now and not a few years down the road when mining operations are already underway.

The precedent is that North Dakota counties taxed uranium mining, and the minerals found with it, like coal, in the 1960s. Traynor added that any tax would be based on a formula using the amount of mineral extracted from each mine. He is looking at taxes imposed on the oil industry as a model.

Traynor told AP his group is likely to ask for an interim legislative study as any tax would have to be authorized at the state level. He said counties need to balance the tax imposed “with what is reasonable and what the industry can manage.”

Global Uranium Corp (TSX:GU) has started drilling on 10 claims on BLM land at its White Cloud project in Panaca, Nev. Ten holes will be drilled to a depth of 100 feet. Nearby assays from surface deposits have revealed uranium values from 0.05% to 0.437% U3O8.

Cotter Corp. is now the subject of a federal public health study at Canon City, Colo., following discovery of off-site uranium contamination thought to be coming from a closed uranium mill. The Denver Post reported on Oct 18 that multiple federal agencies including EPA and CDC are conducting the study.

The mill was designated as a Superfund site 24-years ago. The cleanup work for the 2,600 acre facility is reportedly about halfway done. Earlier this year a plume of uranium contaminated groundwater was discovered under a municipal golf course.

Cotter officials have been planning to reopen the mill or build a new facility based on expansion of the nuclear energy industry in the U.S.

Thorium is the subject of pending legislation introduced by Utah Senator Orin Hatch, a republican, and Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a democrat. They have jointly introduced legislation to support development of thorium-based nuclear reactors in the U.S.

The two western states senators propose to spend $250 million over five years. The dual aims of the funding would be to advance the technology and the ability of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to regulate it. The bill also calls for a demonstration project at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL). You wouldn't get a full-scale reactor for that kind of money, but you certainly would get some interesting work done.

A Utah firm Thorium Energy would benefit from the legislation were it to be enacted with funding by Congress. Thorium Energy leases the mineral rights from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) which manages federal lands in Lemhi Pass, Idaho and nearby Montana. A large deposit of the mineral is known to be accessible at Lemi Pass.

In the press release, Seth Grae, president and CEO of Thorium Power (OTC:THPW) said that the bill is a terrific idea.

“It represents a major milestone toward the recognition that the nuclear renaissance can best be achieved by encouraging new and innovative fuels designs. Senators Hatch and Reid have acted today to strengthen American technology and American business to compete in the global marketplace.”

Thorium is abundant in nature and can be used as nuclear fuel through breeding to uranium (U-233). There are still significant technical and market challenges to the use of thorium which is why the two senators say they are sponsoring the legislation.

Crowe Butte mine under fire – after two days of hearings in Chadron, Neb, it is clear substantial opposition has emerged to a planned expansion of the mine. However, officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not issue a decision on the requested modification to the license for the facility.

Environmental groups and native American organizations have joined forces to stop the expansion of the ISR operation. The thirteen petitioners are claiming pollution of ground water will occur that will not be cleaned up and that the economic benefits of the mine are overstated.

David Frankel, legal counsel for the protest groups, said resources should devoted to restoring polluted groundwater. He also called for the mine to be seized by the U.S. government and taken away from a “foreign owner.” The Ogala Tribe is making a claim that the mine is located on Indian lands and control of its operation belongs to them under federal treaties from the mid-1800s.

Frankel also said it was unrealistic for the mine to expand when the cost of nuclear reactors is rising rapidly meaning many planned reactors will never be built.

The Crowe Butte mine is operated by Cameco and produces about 800,000 pounds of uranium a year. Attorneys for Cameco contend the mine is operated safely and that geologists hired by the mine have stated it is unrealistic to worry about migration of uranium from the ISR operation to water wells on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Tyson Smith, told the hearing the petitioners lack site specific data to support their claims. Earlier this year Cameco officials said it was “geologically impossible” for the mine to pollute wells on the Indian reservation.

Uranium stocks take it on the chin

A brief review of a selected uranium stocks from producers and juniors mentioned in these pages over the past few months shows many of them trading at a tenth of the stock value recorded a year ago. The global financial meltdown has clobbered stocks on Canadian and U.S. stock exchanges without regard to the financial position of the firms. There has been a catastrophic loss of value by investors.

The rapid drop in the price of uranium from a high in 2007 of over $120/lb to close to $45/lb is also crimping the expansion plans of the entire industry. The plans by uranium firms expecting to raise funds for future exploration or early phase mine development have for the most part been put on hold.

However, uranium miners attending NEI's conference in Denver earlier this month expressed confidence that the current financial crisis will pass and that business will resume in the not too distant future. Ux Consulting asked its readers in this week's issue whether the industry is "in denial" about how bad things really are financially.

Bluerock Resources Ltd (CVE:BRD) announced on Oct 8 it would shut down for at least two week to preserve working capital. It is the first to do so and unlikely to be the last.

Uranium Energy Corp. (AMEX:UEC) has announced a cutback to its planned expansion and will concentrate its remaining cash, about $15.3 million, on developing near-term production in south Texas. This is the Goliad ISR project. Amir Adnani, CEO, said exploration in the Colorado plateau will be postponed until the financial picture is brighter.

UEC also reported work has been initiated on a NI 43-101 technical report to make compliant the historic resource estimate previously reported for the Nichols Project. The NI 43-101 technical report is scheduled to be delivered by an independent qualified person in December.

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