February 2009    Print this article

An Update on Uranium Exploration in Québec

By Pierre Lacoste and Patrice Roy
Bureau de l’exploration géologique du Québec
Direction générale de Géologie Québec

After over twenty-odd years of relative inactivity, uranium exploration in Québec exploded in 2007 following a spectacular increase in the price of uranium. Interest in uranium exploration held steady throughout 2008, despite falling prices on the world market. The metal’s popularity is directly related to its price on the spot market, which peaked at over US$130 per pound in June 2007. Since this historic summit, the price of uranium has dropped, as with most metals. The spot market for uranium makes up around 15% of the market, with the remaining 85% of transactions taking the form of long term contracts, generally for more than the spot price (Sidex, 2004).

Click on photo to enlarge

The price of uranium on the spot market, 1995–2008

The price of uranium on the spot market, 1995–2008
(Source: Ux Weekly)

As things stand, the uranium produced by active mines is not enough to meet world demand. Other sources of uranium are therefore required. Even taking other sources of uranium into account—such as nuclear disarmament—uranium production will have to increase by more than 20,000 tons per year to meet demand for the next ten years.

Click on photo to enlarge

Uranium production and reactor consumption in the West

Uranium production and reactor consumption in the West
(Source: World Nuclear Association)

In Canada, uranium production is largely concentrated in the province of Saskatchewan, the world’s No. 1 uranium producer. Québec is still at the exploration stage and has no uranium mines in service. The various stages of exploration work are long, laborious, and expensive. Uranium exploration costs amounted to only a few thousand dollars in 2000 and have since shot up from $1.3 million in 2004 to $70.9 million in 2007.

Cost of Uranium Exploration
and Development in Québec

Year

2004

2005

2006

2007

Costs (M$)

1.3

4.3

22.0

70.9

Source : Raymond Beullac, Institut de la statistique du Québec

These costs were spread across a number of projects mainly in the sedimentary basin of the Monts Otish (northeast of Chibougamau), in the Baie-James region, eastern Nunavik (in the Core Zone), in the metasedimentary rocks of the Torngat Orogen, and in the Grenville series, particularly in the Côte-Nord region (Baie-Johan-Beetz– Aguanish). Work in the Témiscamingue (Kipawa sector), Outaouais (Gatineau sector), and Laurentides regions (Mont-Laurier) was either minor or nonexistent.

Click on map to enlarge

Growth Sectors

Currently, the most sought-after and promising sectors for uranium exploration are the Monts Otish basin, the Baie-James region, and the area south of Ungava Bay and the Torngats. The geological background of each of these sectors was outlined in the February 2007 edition of Québec mines. The latest results are summarized in the paragraphs below.

Otish Mountains

In the Otish Mountains, over 20 projects or targets are being worked on by various exploration companies, notably major companies Cameco and Areva-Québec and junior companies such as Strateco Resources Inc., Dios Exploration Inc., and Majescor. The uranium potential of the Otish Mountains sector has been known for several years, and a number of indicators are typical of unconformity-related uranium deposits, as in Saskatchewan. Nonetheless, the project that has made most headway in Québec—Strateco Resources’s Matoush Project—involves type-U uranium deposits in veins associated with shear zones. The deposit contains indicated resources of 250,000 tons at 0.68% U3O8 and inferred resources of 1.3 Mt at 0.44% U3O8. The company has completed an opportunity study and plans to carry out an underground exploration program within the next year.

The Core Zone of the Nouveau-Québec and Torngat Orogens

This zone is uncharted territory for uranium exploration. It was thrust into the spotlight following the discovery of zones of anomalous uranium values in lake-bottom sediment sampled by the Ministry in 1997. The Core Zone (formerly known as Churchill or Rae Province) forms the basement of eastern Nunavik. It is largely composed of Archean to Mesoproterozoic tonalitic gneiss, granitoids, and mafic intrusions. Veins and dikes of granitic pegmatite cut across the Archean basement of the Core Zone and the rocks of the Nouveau-Québec and Torngat orogens. The vast territory covered by the eastern portion of Nunavik, east of the Labrador Trough, is fertile ground for various types of uranium mineralization.

Mineralization associated with Rössing-type pegmatites appears to be the most promising. Azimut Exploration Inc. has identified a number of anomalous kilometer-scale zones. Analysis of rock samples has returned uranium values of more than 1,000 ppm (0.1% U3O8), and the best grades were 0.59%, 0.57%, 0.46%, 0.3%, and 0.65% U3O8, with grab samples registering up to 3.3% U3O8. Further south, on the Rivière Georges property, which is made up of claim blocks scattered between Rivière Georges and the Québec–Labrador border, Freewest Resources Canada has uncovered four uranium showings. This uranium mineralization falls within the granitic pegmatite dikes that crisscross the gneissic basement of the Core Zone. The mineralized zone is close to 2.6 km long and 700 m wide. The best values obtained were 0.453% and 0.132% U3O8 in grab samples from the Stewart Lake Trend property. Areva-Québec’s CAGE project uncovered grading of up to 8.13% U3O8 in a grab sample, and channel sampling registered 0.45% over 1 meter. Other targets were also sampled.

Click on map to enlarge

Other Sectors Highlighted by Lake-Bottom Anomalies

A number of other hotspots were also identified in the Baie-James region, particularly in the Apple sector, in environments conducive to the discovery of unconformity-related uranium deposits or uranium-bearing veins. For instance, the pyrite uranium conglomerates in the Apple showing are being worked on by Virginia Mines and Strateco Resources. Further east, Midland Exploration and Quest Uranium have found high grading in grab samples. Uranium mineralization is also often associated with granitic pegmatites cutting through the gneiss or in granitic mobilisate.

In central and northern Québec (Bienville and Lac Minto), Azimut Exploration Inc. is carrying out various types of geophysical and geochemical work and prospecting various anomalies and targets. The results indicate grades of up to 0.32% U3O8 for samples and grading as high as 0.90% U3O8. A number of targets were also identified using lake-bottom geochemistry. These sectors offer fresh potential and land in the search for uranium.

Côte-Nord

The uranium potential of the Côte-Nord region has been known since the late 1970s. Most work dates back a number of years, but exploration activity has increased in this sector, particularly since the price of uranium has risen. Work is mainly concentrated in the Baie Johan-Beetz–Aguanish area, where there are a number of deposits with historic resources (not in compliance with Standard 43-101). Work was recently performed in the sector by Azimut Exploration Inc., Kennecott, and D’Arianne Resources, among others. Grading of up to 0.43% U3O8 and significant quantities of rare earth were noted in a pegmatite. Double S, a Uracan-owned deposit in the Baie-Johan-Beetz sector, has 74 Mt of resources at 0.012% U3O8. Moreover, other showings have come to light further north, thanks to lake-bottom sediment and airborne radiometric anomalies. Grab samples notably reported grades of up to 0.33% U3O8. And in the Sept-Îles Nord sector, the most talked-about deposit is held by Terra Ventures at Lac Kachiwiss. This deposit contains 18.3 Mt of historic resources (not in compliance with Standard 43-101) at 0.015% U3O8. The company recently drilled to check historic resources and carried out airborne geophysical work to gauge the potential of neighboring areas.

Most known deposits in the Côte-Nord region are associated with granitic pegmatites. They are heavy, low grade mineralizations related to the type found in the Rössing Mine in Namibia, which with a 300 Mt deposit at 0.03% U3O8, is the world’s fourth biggest uranium mine. In the Côte-Nord region, there are also iron oxide-type deposits with uranium, copper, and gold associations, as with the Kwijibo showing. Once again, this type of deposit has the potential to produce huge deposits with low grades. For example, the Olympic Dam deposit in Australia is estimated to contain 2,000 Mt, including 1.4 Mt of U3O8 at a grade of 0.06%, making it the world’s largest uranium deposit.

Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune uses a cut-off point of at least 425 ppm U (500 ppm or 0.05% U3O8 [uranium oxide]) to identify uranium showings. In order to support uranium exploration, Direction générale de Géologie Québec has published a special edition map, last updated in 2009, entitled "Uranium in the Secondary Environment and Uranium Mineralizations." The map highlights the geochemistry of lake-bottom and stream sediments as well as known mineralizations contained in the SIGÉOM database. Further geochemical and radiometric surveys have been conducted in Québec.

Send this page
Previous issues | Questions and comments


© Gouvernement du Québec, 2009