June Newsletter – 29.06.2020



  • Only mill in the US able to process uranium-rare earth ores open for business
  • Russian mining giant behind major Arctic fuel spill admits waste ‘violations’
  • ArcelorMittal considers sale of Canadian assets
  • Experts call for plan to protect deep-sea life from mining
  • Mexican official hit after call to nationalize lithium mines
  • Barrick laying off 2,650 people at Papua, New Guinea gold mine as dispute over lease drags on
  • Miner hits jackpot finding largest-ever tanzanite gems
  • Mining holding MIND.ID to acquire Vale Indonesia for $392m by year-end

Only mill in the US able to process uranium-rare earth ores open for business

As the US pushes to dilute China’s monopoly and develop a domestic rare earth supply,  Colorado-based Energy Fuels (TSX: EFR) is working towards being at the forefront in the race.

Energy Fuels is the owner of the White Mesa Mill in Utah, the only fully-licensed and operating conventional uranium mill in the United States. The facility is normally used to process radioactive ore and produce yellowcake but now some areas are likely to be transformed to allow for the processing of uranium-rare earth ores.

“Our rare earth elements program intends to make the mill available for miners to process their uranium-rare earth ores in the US. Such a facility does not currently exist,” Mark Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels, told MINING.COM.

According to Chalmers, the mill’s ability to remove and recover uranium and manage the radioactive byproducts from rare earth ore potentially makes it a key link in the US rare earth supply chain. This is because many rare earth separation facilities are unable to handle uranium or the radioactive byproducts due to either technical or regulatory reasons, which explains why China’s rare earth industry is closely tied to its nuclear industry.

“We are simply looking to do something similar in the US,” the executive said.

It took Energy Fuels one year to assess the possibility of using the White Mesa mill to process REE ore streams and produce rare earth concentrates. Can you explain what this evaluation process consisted of?

Over the past year or so, we were approached by several private entities and the US government, asking about the capabilities of the White Mesa Mill in the rare earth space. So we began to educate ourselves.

We discovered that uranium occurs in many rare earth minerals and that these elements need to be removed before the individual rare earth elements could be separated. Of course, uranium recovery is our main business. We began internal laboratory testing on a number of rare earth mineral samples and got very positive results.


Russian mining giant behind major Arctic fuel spill admits waste ‘violations’

  • Norilsk Nickel says it has suspended a number of employees responsible for dumping waste water
  • More than 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked from a fuel storage tank at one of the company’s subsidiary plants near Norilsk

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A dead fish is seen on the shore of the Ambarnaya River outside Norilsk.

A Russian mining giant behind an enormous Arctic fuel spill last month said Sunday it had suspended workers at a metals plant who were responsible for pumping waste water into nearby tundra.

Norilsk Nickel cited a “flagrant violation of operating rules” in a statement announcing it had suspended employees responsible for dumping waste water from a dangerously full reservoir into wildlife.

The incident occurred at the Talnakh enrichment plant near the Arctic city of Norilsk, the company said, one month after the unprecedented fuel leak sparked a state of emergency declared by President Vladimir Putin.

More than 21,000 tonnes of diesel leaked from a fuel storage tank at one of the company’s subsidiary plants near Norilsk. The fuel seeped into the soil and dyed nearby waterways bright red.

A source told Interfax news agency Sunday that in the most recent case, around 6,000 cubic metres of liquid used to process minerals at the facility had been dumped and that the discharge had lasted “several hours”.

It was impossible to determine how far the waste water had dispersed, the source said.

Independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta published videos from the scene showing large metal pipes carrying waste water from the reservoir and dumping foaming liquid into nearby trees.


ArcelorMittal considers sale of Canadian assets

ArcelorMittal, the world’s biggest steelmaker, is evaluating the potential sale of its infrastructure assets in Canada, where it has the largest and most profitable iron ore operation, as it seeks to cut debt by divesting non-core businesses.

The facilities the company may put on the chopping block include a 420km-long railway servicing the 24 million tonnes-per-year Mont-Wright iron ore mine in Quebec, FT.com reports.

Selling either the entire ArcelorMittal Infrastructure Canada (AMIC) unit, or a stake in it, would help the Luxembourg-based firm achieve its target of reducing net debt to $7 billion from $9.5 billion currently.


In 2013, ArcelorMittal sold a 15% stake in its Canadian mining business to a consortium led by Korea’s Posco for $1.1 billion.

The steelmaker is also said to be reviewing its other iron ore assets, located in Brazil and Liberia.

The company has struggled for years with its Nimba iron ore operation in Liberia, halting an expansion plan after Ebola devastated the West African country in 2014.

It also owns rail and port infrastructure around the mine, which could also be a welcome addition to iron ore projects across the border in Guinea, such as Nimba, being developed by Canadian billionaire Robert Friedland. It could also be beneficial to mining veteran Mick Davis’ Zogota.

ArcelorMittal said last year it had the potential to “unlock” $2 billion from its portfolio by 2021, which analysts took as a sign of plans to sell non-core units. Last month it raised that very same figure through a sale of shares and convertible bonds.

The steelmaker also has operations in the United States, Mexico, Bosnia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

European steelmakers have been hit by a slump in demand from the auto industry and competition from cheap imports. That’s also making it hard for them to pass on to customers higher prices for iron ore, a key steelmaking ingredient, that are being stoked by mine closures in Brazil and strong demand from China.


Experts call for plan to protect deep-sea life from mining

Mining the seafloor opens a vast source of key metals needed for clean energy, but should not start until a full evaluation of likely environmental impacts can be made, a report commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) shows.

The group of academics and environmentalists believe a precautionary approach to deep-sea mining is needed. Otherwise, they warn of likely irreversible damage to global aquatic ecosystems.

In their study, published on Wednesday, the experts note that copper, rare earths and iron ore were the resources that piqued miners’ original interest in exploring the seafloor.

Over the past two years, minerals needed for a green energy transition like cobalt and nickel, with demand set to exceed current production rates by 2030, are driving the rapidly rising interest in the activity.

There have been some attempts to regulate the emerging industry. Two years ago, the European Parliament called for a ban on seabed mining until the environmental impacts and risks of disturbing unique deep-sea ecosystems are understood.

In the resolution, it also urged the European Commission to persuade member states to stop sponsoring and subsidizing licenses to explore and exploit the seabed in international waters as well as within their own territories.

Shortly after, an international team of researchers published a set of criteria to help the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a UN body made up of 168 countries, protect biodiversity from deep-sea mining activities.

The ISA was scheduled to discuss regulation that could allow deep seabed mining in July. The annual assembly, however, is delayed until October because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Seafloor nodules

According to the US Geological Survey, as the deep-sea accounts for more than half the world’s surface, its mineral riches are several times higher than those found in all land reserves combined.

The main target of companies planning to mine underwater are polymetallic nodules. These small rocks, which lie in a shallow layer of mud on the seafloor, are rich in cobalt, nickel, copper, manganese and rare earths.

Scientists and explorers have also identified cobalt-rich crusts, located shallower than nodules and sulphates.


Mexican official hit after call to nationalize lithium mines

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s largest union group is criticizing calls by the environment secretary to nationalize the country’s newly-discovered lithium deposits, considered among the largest in the world.

The Mexican Workers Federation, known as the CTM, claimed the nationalization proposal would scare off foreign investment. The CTM represents some mine workers.

“There is no room for ideological fanaticism. Mining in our country is protected by the law, because it is enormously useful for industry, from food processing to autos to telecommunications,” the union federation said in a statement.

Lithium is a key ingredient in the growing market for electric car batteries.

A joint project by Chinese and English companies are developing what may become the largest lithium mine in the world in the northern Mexico state of Sonora. But Environment Secretary Victor Toledo said last week the government should control lithium mining, and then perhaps name a private or government-owned company to run it.

On June 17, Toledo said in an online panel discussion that “we are pushing for, and we hope to achieve, the government nationalization lithium resources.”

“The English and Chinese companies are coming already,” Toledo said. “Lithium should be nationalized and the government should create a company, which could be private or public, but the government should control the use of lithium.”

The Sonora lithium project is being developed by Sonora Lithium, a joint venture of U.K.-based Bacanora Minerals and China’s Ganfeng Lithium.

The company says the mine is estimated to hold proven and probable reserves of 4.5 million tons of lithium carbonate-equivalent.


Barrick laying off 2,650 people at Papua, New Guinea gold mine as dispute over lease drags on

SINGAPORE — Barrick Gold Corp will lay off most staff at its Porgera gold mine in Papua New Guinea, the mine’s operator said on Wednesday, a signal that an impasse with the government over ownership is unlikely to be resolved swiftly.

Canada’s Barrick, the world’s second-biggest gold miner, was refused an extension of its expired lease on the mine in April, with the government citing unrest and pollution concerns.

It stopped production and put the mine in care and maintenance mode while challenging the lease decision in court, but on Wednesday flagged further job cuts and said 2,650 Papua New Guinea nationals would be retrenched by the end of July.

“The government had repeatedly refused to enter into meaningful discussions about the issue,” Barrick Niugini Ltd, which operates the mine as a joint venture between Barrick and China’s Zijin Mining Group Ltd, said in a statement.

“The fact that the mine is not operating and therefore not producing revenue had created a financially untenable situation.”

It said staff it had kept on in the hope of resolving the dispute would be cut at a cost of $52 million.

Barrick Chief Executive Mark Bristow said only essential personnel required for care and maintenance would remain. In January, he had told Reuters the mine had potential to be a top-tier asset.

A spokesman for PNG Prime Minister James Marape had no immediate response on Wednesday. He has previously said the government intends to operate the mine itself.

Barrick Niugini’s challenge to the lease extension is due in court on July 6.


Miner hits jackpot finding largest-ever tanzanite gems

One Tanzanian miner’s day just got a lot brighter after finding the largest Tanzanite gems in history. The finding has now made him US$3.35 million richer, and he plans to share his newfound wealth with those around him.

Saniniu Laizer, the small-scale subsistence miner who made the discovery, said he will first have a party and then work on plans to build a school and shopping mall with the money from the gems.

Laizer said, “There are many poor people around here who can’t afford to take their children to school.”

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two tanzanite gemstones are the largest ever found, according to the mines ministry. PHOTO: Tanzania Ministry of Minerals/Reuters

The Bank of Tanzania bought the two gemstones, which weigh 9.3 kilograms and 5.1 kilograms, and are about the size of a forearm. The small East African country last year set up trading centres around the country to allow artisanal miners to sell their gems and gold to the government.

In 2018, officials built a wall around tanzanite mining concessions in northern Tanzania in an attempt to control illegal mining and trading activities. At that time, 40% of tanzanite produced there was reportedly being lost to cross-border smuggling. The rare gems are only found in a small northern region of Tanzania.


Mining holding MIND.ID to acquire Vale Indonesia for $392m by year-end

State-owned mining holding company MIND ID plans to buy a 20 percent stake of one of the country’s top nickel miners, PT Vale Indonesia (INCO), by year-end in a move that is expected to further strengthen Indonesia’s grip on domestic mineral resources.

MIND ID signed on Thursday a deal to pay Rp 5.52 trillion (US$392 million) INCO’s shareholders, Brazil-based Vale and Japan-based Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. Ltd, to acquire the stake. Vale will receive Rp 4.13 trillion and Sumitomo Rp 1.39 trillion.

The deal brings an end to year-long negotiations between the three companies.

The acquisition has been pushed back for the second time this year due to pandemic-related complications. INCO’s shareholders initially scheduled the acquisition for March but postponed it to May amid market uncertainty

“This transaction demonstrates the confidence of global mining companies in MIND ID and Indonesia as a whole,” said MIND ID president director Orias Petrus Moedak on Saturday.

The deal, which values INCO’s shares at Rp 2,780 each, also grants Vale continued “financial and operational control” of INCO, the Brazil-based company wrote on Friday.

“This transaction represents an important development in PT Vale’s long presence in Indonesia and reinforces its commitment to keep investing in the region,” Vale added.

With the latest deal, INCO will divest a total 41 percent of its shares. The nickel miner previously divested a 21 percent stake through the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX).

Vale, meanwhile, will retain a 44 percent share of INCO. The remaining 15 percent will be held by Sumitomo.

The Brazil-based company is divesting INCO in exchange for being able to continue its mining operations beyond 2025, which is when INCO’s existing contract will expire. Vale’s Indonesian arm operates one of the world’s largest nickel mining operations in mineral-rich Sulawesi.

Such a divestment, mandated by Government Regulation No. 77/2014, is part of Indonesia’s campaign to tighten control over its mineral wealth and thus, boost state revenue.



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