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High mineral prices drive hunt for uranium in Yukon

The price of uranium has “skyrocketed,” spurring three companies to root around the Wernecke Mountains, about 200 kilometres north of…

The price of uranium has “skyrocketed,” spurring three companies to root around the Wernecke Mountains, about 200 kilometres north of Keno, in search of the stuff.

Cash Minerals, Signet Minerals and Fronteer Group, in partnership with Rimfire Minerals, are on the hunt for the valuable mineral.

They’re mainly looking for a type of deposit similar to that found in Australia’s Olympic Dam.

The Australian deposits are composed of copper, uranium, gold and silver.

The theory is that the Yukon’s Wernecke Mountains and the Olympic Dam were part of the same geological province when that deposit formed 1.6 billion years ago.

In the Wernecke area, there’s the potential to find uranium-only deposits and copper-gold-uranium-silver deposits — like those in Olympic Dam.

There’s not enough research to conclude that the Wernecke area contains a wealth of uranium.

But so far, the area has shown evidence it contains the same types of minerals.

“It’s encouraging,” said Fronteer Development Group vice-president Rick Valenta.

Last week, the company announced assays that averaged 0.23 per cent uranium, or 5.1 pounds per tonne of rock, from 88 boulders in its Fireweed prospect.

“It’s not a super-high concentration, but it’s certainly good enough to possibly produce a good ore deposit,” said Valenta.

“Since a pound of uranium sells for US $64, that represents rock worth $320 per tonne.”

In 2006, Fronteer has spent close to $3.5 million on exploration — staking, prospecting and conducting an air survey in the area.

Next year, it plans to spend $5.5 million in drilling, further prospecting and sampling.

This year is the fifth in a row that mineral exploration expenditures in the Yukon increased but this year the climb was drastic.

It rose from $53 million in 2005 to a projected $80 million in 2006.

“We’ve had the highest increase of anywhere in Canada,” said Bob Holmes, mineral management director of Yukon’s mineral resources branch.

Those exploration dollars fuel the territory’s economy, creating jobs and buying local goods and services.

But the ultimate benefit to the territory comes with a mineral discovery and an open mine.

“That doesn’t happen very often; a new mine is a rare occurrence but that’s what everybody is hoping for,” said Holmes.

“Interest (in the Yukon) has really been building for the past few years,” said Yukon Geological Survey mineral services head Mike Burke.

With mineral prices growing, companies are more interested in tracking down deposits.

The increased interest was reflected in this year’s Yukon Geoscience Forum.

Held this week at the High Country Inn, the forum attracted more interest, more delegates and more sponsors than ever before.

Three-hundred-and-fifty delegates registered and about 300 showed up for the three days of presentations (others were waylaid by a snowstorm in Vancouver.)

Mineral prices are high, so companies are interested in places with mineral wealth.

All of the companies looking for uranium in the Wernecke area are still in the exploration stage.

“The odds of finding a mineral deposit are really low,” said Burke.

“You have to look at 1,000 areas and maybe one of them becomes a mine.

“That’s why geologists are optimists.”

Uranium has never been mined in the Yukon before.

Representatives from Cash Minerals and Signet Minerals could not be contacted before press time.