For some time now the Australian government has stuck to a policy of only allowing three mines to produce uranium, , but demand from around the world as the price of uranium has risen may bring about a change of heart. The re-election of the Howard government, which now also has control of the Senate, could be a major factor, but a lot will still depend on State governments which control mining and export licences. South Australia has always been supportive and reaps handsome royalties from the Olympic Dam and Beverley mines and the Northern Territory takes the same attitude towards the Ranger mine operated by Energy Resources of Australia, which is itself 65 per cent owned by Rio Tinto. Western Australia, on the other hand, has been against any expansion of uranium exploration. There is an election in the offing, however, and this stance may change if Labour is thrown out.
In the past there have been more than ample supplies of enriched uranium for nuclear power stations around the world. Above-ground strategic stockpiles of the metal put aside by utilities and for use in nuclear weapons have been unwound and highly-enriched military uranium in decommissioned bomb arsenals diluted and reprocessed. As a result there has been a lack of investment in uranium exploration and mine development over the past 10 years or more. Things are now changing dramatically with higher oil and gas prices increasing the popularity of nuclear power. Above-ground stockpiles are now heavily depleted and rising demand has driven the world spot price for uranium oxide from US$7.10 per pound in late 2000 to US$15.50 at the beginning of this year and it is now above US$20/lb which is a 20-year high
This is no temporary blip as figures for the end of July showed that 30 reactors were in construction, another 32 were on order and 72 more were proposed. Japan, China and Taiwan are planning substantial increases in capability and all three are ideal markets for Australian producers. This puts a focus on Giralia Resources which is the only Australian junior involved in an active drilling programme for uranium as it has a 25 per cent free carried interest in tenements around the Beverley mine which produces around 700 tonnes a year of uranium oxide. Its partner is Heathgate Resources which owns and operates the Beverley mine and is related to the private US utility General Atomics.
The joint venture is exploring the Lake Frome property which covers some 2,000 sq kms around Beverley and is known to contain potential extensions of the mineralised palaeo channels being mined at Beverley. A drilling programme is now underway to assess the uranium potential and the regional/structural geology of areas to the south and east of the Beverley mine. Recent geophysical surveys have traced a well defined structural target called the Poontana fault on the Lake Frome tenements which is related to the regional setting of the Beverley uranium deposit. To date exploration has been a bit laid back as Heathgate was restrained from expanding its uranium operations. The possibility that the Australian government may open the door a bit wider for exports could be of great benefit to Giralia which is free carried up to a decision to mine.
Uranium is only a part of Giralia’s portfolio, however. Leading the rest is the 100 per cent owned Snake Well gold project which runs for 45 kms along strike of an under-explored greenstone belt in the West Murchison region of WA north east of Geraldton. The company has already delineated a gold resource of 2.49 million tonnes at 2 g/t gold for 160,000 contained ounces and drilling is in progress to extend known deposits and test new targets with first pass holes. Promising results have been received from drilling to extend the Mixy lode with an intersection of 12 metres at 5.4 g/t gold and 0.4 metres at 32.1 g/t with conspicuous visible gold. More results are awaited , but it is already clear that the resource will have increased significantly when the next estimate is announced.
Giralia is also earning into Haoma Mining’s Daltons nickel project in the Pilbara. At the moment diamond drilling is in progress to test conductor targets where previous high grade nickel-copper-sulphide intersections have been reported. The company is involved in a couple of other gold and nickel jvs and the only other wholly owned project is the Blue Rose copper – gold project in South Australia. Drill targets are being defined by ground gravity geophysical surveys with the focus on primary porphyry skarn and IOCG mineralization under extensive near-surface secondary copper intersections. Last, but not least ,the company has broken out of Australia and also owns the Ann Mason copper project in Nevada. Back in the 70s a porphyry copper resource of 495 million tonnes at 0.4% copper was estimated, but work since then has indicated a high grade core and data is currently being integrated. For the moment, however, it will be uranium that drives the share price.