Mining test showcases SABRE potential

04 November 2021

A five-year test programme on an innovative mining method that could potentially be used to access high-grade orebodies that are either too small or too deep to be mined economically using conventional methods has been completed by Denison Mines Corp and Orano Canada Inc. The patented Surface Access Borehole Resource Extraction - SABRE - mining method has been tested on the McClean Lake property in Saskatchewan, Canada.

McClean Lake (Image: Orano)

SABRE is a non-entry, surface-based mining method that uses a high-pressure water jet placed at the bottom of a drill hole to excavate a mining cavity. The cuttings from the excavation process are then air lifted to the surface, separated and stockpiled. The method is the culmination of a mining equipment invention and development initiative that began in 2004.

Denison and Orano - the joint venture partners in McClean Lake Joint Venture (MLJV) - said the final stage of a five-year field test was completed from May to September 2021 with four mining cavities successfully excavated to produce around 1500 tonnes of "high-value" ore with grades in the range of 4%-11% U3O8. "The programme was concluded with no safety, environmental or radiological incidents and confirmed the ability to achieve key operating objectives associated with the test programme - including targets for cavity diameter, rates of recovery, and mine production rates," the companies said.

Most of the ore recovered from the test mining programme has now been transferred to the McClean Lake mill, and is expected to be processed by the end of the year.

Based on the success of the 2021 programme, the partners plan to evaluate the potential use of SABRE for future mining operations at their jointly owned McClean Lake (77.5% Orano, 22.5% Denison) and Midwest (74.83% Orano, 25.17% Denison) properties. Orano is the operator of both properties.

"With this test result, SABRE has demonstrated that it is capable of mining high-grade uranium ore in the Athabasca Basin region. Orano, as operator of the MLJV, has diligently advanced the necessary R&D efforts as part of a long-term vision for developing a mining method that could benefit our joint venture," Denison President and CEO David Cates said, adding that the companies "look forward to jointly exploring its potential applications in the context of improving uranium markets."

SABRE, the companies say, is unique in that it can be selective and scalable. Its potential superior flexibility when compared to conventional mining methods mean it is ideally suited to changing uranium market conditions, with a potentially short production ramp up of months instead of years.

"The SABRE method is considered environmentally friendly as a result of its less intrusive nature and potentially smaller surface footprint when compared to conventional open pit or underground mining methods. Reduced water usage and power consumption also contribute to potential reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improved sustainability. Additionally, as a non-entry mining method, radiological exposure for mine workers is minimised," they add.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News