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Mactung marches ahead

Nearly six years after applying to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, Mactung has finally cleared the assessment process.

Nearly six years after applying to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, Mactung has finally cleared the assessment process.

“It’s a major accomplishment and everyone is really happy,” said Allan Krasnick, chair of the environmental committee of North American Tungsten’s board of directors.

“It feels good - it feels good, now. My family’s happy.”

North American Tungsten currently operates the Cantung mine, located 300 kilometres from Watson Lake, up the Nahanni Range Road just inside the N.W.T. border.

The mine has been operating, on and off, since 1962. The site used to house a bustling town of nearly 600 people, with an RCMP post, a jail, two schools and three bars.

While it belongs to the N.W.T. for regulatory purposes, the business revenues flow through Yukon and the mine is most connected to the community of Watson Lake.

Mactung is about 160 kilometres up along the border with N.W.T., this time falling on the Yukon side, near the North Canol Road.

The two deposits are very similar, and appear to be part of the same geological formation, said Krasnick.

“It’s not coincidence that they’re both on the border of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon,” he said.

Mactung is “a monster deposit,” said Krasnick. “It’s a really big deposit. And it seems like the market is really good. For tungsten itself, there’s more and more uses and it’s really rare.”

Tungsten is one of the hardest metals, and is used in combination with others as a strengthener.

It is used in drill bits and airplane frames. Tungsten carbide is the second hardest substance on the planet, after diamonds.

North American Tungsten estimates that the capital cost to get Mactung up and running is about $400 million, including a contingency fund.

The defined reserve will produce tungsten for 11 years of underground mining and 17 years of open pit mining.

But the deposit likely extends beyond that. After 60 years, the limits of the Cantung deposit has yet to be found.

“We’re making long-term plans,” said Krasnick.

The company is working on securing financing for Mactung now that it has been approved by assessors, he said.

It will also have to apply for a quartz mining licence and a water board.

That will take some time, he said.

The company wants to do more design work and testing on the site before then. The plan is to bring some ore from Mactung to the mill at Cantung, to “see if there’s anything we don’t know about the rock,” said Krasnick.

Having an operating mine nearby is a big advantage, he said.

It will also help with training.

The Mactung mine will need close to 300 employees, and North American Tungsten hopes to hire as many as possible from the North.

“The biggest challenge that we have to meet, that we want to meet, is to increase northern hiring,” said Krasnick.

The company is working with the Ross River Dena Council to see what the capacity needs are, and how they can be met, he said.

“We’re already talking about some positions where we train people in Cantung, they can work in Cantung with the expectation that they’ll work at Mactung.”

It’s still too early to say when shovels might hit the ground at Mactung, but it could be as soon as about two years from now, said Krasnick.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at