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Hunt for the next uranium discovery - SE Athabasca basin

Updated: Oct 24, 2021


  • Athabasca is a world class location for uranium deposits with deposits grades from 2 to 20% vs global average of 0.2%

  • South-east Athabasca basin is underexplored and has potential to host significant shallow uranium deposits

  • 92 Energy, SkyHarbour and Base Lode are actively exploring this area in 2021

  • Results from 92 Energy and SkyHarbour exploration drilling are expected shortly

Athabasca basin is a world class location for Uranium deposits

Athabasca basin is located in the NW Saskatchewan and is recognised as the world class location for uranium deposits, hosting some of the largest and highest grades deposits such as Cigar Lake and McArthur River. Uranium deposits grades in the basin can reach up to 20%, with average grade in the basin of 2%. This is significantly larger than other uranium producing regions, with world average uranium grade of 0.2%.

Fig 1. Athabasca Basin is located in central Canada.

The basin sediments vary in thickness from 1-1000 m and belong to Athabasca Group. The surface between the sediments and underlying basement represents an "unconformity" (Fig 2.). Historically, uranium deposits were found in proximity to the unconformity surface. Deposits can be hosted by red sandstones of Athabasca Group or pelitic/graphitic lithologies within underlying basement (Fig 2.). Pelite and graphite are organic rich and create perfect chemical conditions for precipitation of uranium from metal rich fluids circulating in the basin.

Uranium was discovered in the Athabasca basin in 1940 and currently the basin is the world's top producer of Uranium, contributing c. 20% to global supply. Basin still remains a Tier1 district for mineral discoveries. Arrow and PLS discoveries, made in the last decade, are great examples of high grade, low cost uranium deposits and highlight remaining exploration potential in the basin.

Fig 2. Location of uranium deposits in relation to the unconformity.

South-east Athabasca basin remains underexplored

In this article we will focus on exploration activity in the south-east Athabasca basin. The area lies just to the east of prolific trend extending NE-SW from Colins Bay, through Cigar Lake to McArtur River (Fig 3.). Exploration in this area focuses on shallow deposits, located at depths from 50-200 m. As we move to the east the unconformity comes up shallower and lies directly below glacial sediments. Discoveries along the trend include West Bear, Raven and Horseshoe, which are being developed by UEX Corporation. Typical deposits along this trend are of "ingress" type with mineralisation hosted below unconformity within the basement rock (Fig 2.). Deposits are as associated with fault breccia on contact with graphitic schists.

So far only Tier 2 deposits were discovered along this basin margin. However, most of the exploration happened with limited use of modern technologies such as e.g. VTEM magnetics. Shallow depths of deposits and basement host rocks make discoveries in this area very competitive with deeper sandstone hosted deposits where more expensive mining methods such as freezing are required.

Fig 3. Geological map of Athabasca Basin. SE Athabasca region is highlighted, together with existing mines and discoveries.

Companies with exposure to the south-east Athabasca play are: 92 Energy, Base Lode, Sky Harbour, Pure Point, UEX, Fission 3.0 and IsoEnergy (Fig 4.). We will dive into their activity in the area and highlight the most active explorers.

Fig .4 Map of south-east Athabasca basin showing key acreage holders.

Several drilling programs are taking place in the area during 2021

92 Energy, SkyHarbour and BaseLode are actively exploring this area during 2021 summer drilling season. Results from 92 Energy and SkyHarbour exploration drilling are expected shortly. Furthermore, Base Lode just commenced their exploration drilling program.

92 Energy (ASX: 92E) drilled 4 holes on Gemini property as part of summer exploration program. 5.3 m interval of elevated radioactivity was encountered on the 4th hole (Gem-04). Rock alterations described in press release are also indicative of mineralised zone. Assay results from the drilling program are expected shortly. 92 Energy will come back to the property in Q1 to continue exploration drilling.

Base Lode (TSXV: FIND) owns Hook property, which borders the 92 Energy Gem-04 borehole. Mineralisation encountered in Gem-04 may extend into the Base Lode property. At the end of August, company mobilised drilling crew to Hook property, where 2500 m program in 10-15 drill holes is planned.

SkyHarbour (TSXV: SHY) is focused on extending the Maverick zone on Moore property during 2021. "The high grade Maverick East Zone has been identified over a minimum of 170 metres strike length. It is currently a minimum of 10 metres wide, open down dip and is up to 17.9 metres thick with grades of up to 9.12% U3O8 (with a minimum grade of 0.1% U3O8)." Drilling commenced in March 2021. Initial 3500 m drilling program was expanded in June 2021 to 5000 m. Results from the drilling are expected anytime. Furthermore, SkyHarbour was active this summer in their Hook property to the east. Fieldwork was carried, with grab samples returning up to 59% U308.

Map of south-east Athabasca basin showing most active explorers in 2021.

Other companies have more limited exploration activity in 2021 in this part of the Athabasca basin, but can be strong plays in other areas. We will focus on Pure Point and Fission 3.0 in the next article, as both companies hold large acreage positions around Arrow and PLS discoveries.

UEX is primarily focused on development of it's assets including Raven, Horseshoe discoveries. Exploration drilling commenced in August on Christie Lake property just to the north of McArthur River. The depths to unconformity in this area are 400-500 m.

Pure Point (TSXV: PTU) is planning geophysical program on the licenses in the south-east Athabasca basin in 2021.

IsoEnergy has significant presence in the area. However, the main focus of company remains on Hurricane project in Larocque East property. Company did not communicate their exploration plans for properties in the south-east Athabasca basin.

Fission 3.0 have not announce their exploration plans yet in the south-east Athabasca basin.

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This article uses company releases, third-party data, and academic research. These may contain approximations and errors.

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