Underground Exploration Program
What is the underground exploration program?
Since exploration at the Matoush project began in 2006, Strateco has discovered a significant quantity of uranium ore. In May 2007, Strateco launched site characterization activities to evaluate the viability of sinking a decline with horizontal drifts to the -300-metre level.
According to the most recent resource estimate by Roscoe Postle Associates Inc. dated January 2012, the inferred resource at the Matoush property has increased by 50% since the last resource estimate in September 2009. The inferred resource now stands at 2.04 million tonnes grading 0.43% U3O8 containing 19.22 million pounds of U3O8. Indicated resources are estimated at 453,000 tonnes at a grade of 0.78% U3O8 for 7.78 million pounds of U3O8.
These results warrant the excavation of an exploration ramp and a phase of advanced exploration as part of the Matoush project development. This excavation is meant to define the mineral resources and, subsequently, to determine the feasibility of a large scale mining project at Matoush.
Activities will mainly consist of site preparation, installation of a portal, underground excavation to reach the -300 level and excavation of exploration drifts to carry out drilling. Underground excavation will take place in waste rock. Openings in the mineralized zone will be made at the -165 level to evaluate ground condition and mining method. All the ore will be stored in an underground storage bay. These activities will allow the quantity and treatment of mine water to be evaluated. The project remains first and foremost an exploration program; the project is not yet a mine, and no processing or refining takes place at this stage.
What infrastructure is required for the underground exploration program?
For the advanced exploration phase, the Matoush project will require surface and underground facilities.
The underground exploration program consists of five main elements:
- The portal and the ramp
- Two waste rock pads
- A water treatment system including the sedimentation and holding ponds
- A fuel farm
- The power plant and ventilation system
The property is presently occupied by a 48-person camp. A 11-km access road links the camp to the winter road (northern continuity of the Route 167). The underground exploration decline project will require an increase in the workforce on the site and additional surface facilities. Approximately 180 employees (90 employees on rotating workshifts) will participate in the project.
Without taking the decline into account since it is completely underground, these elements and the related infrastructure will occupy approximately 15 ha of surface space.
The surface installations are:
- Two waste rock pads
- A water treatment plant and its ponds
- A fuel farm
- The power plant and ventilation system
The waste pads:
To build the underground decline, Strateco will excavate in unmineralized rock (without uranium ore), also known as “waste”. The waste rock will be brought to surface and placed on one of two waste pads surrounded by a ditch. If Strateco comes across any waste rock containing uranium ore (also known as “special waste”) while driving the decline, it will be brought up to surface and stored in a separate stockpile.
The water treatment plant and its ponds:
The mine water on the site will mainly come from ramp excavation and mining exploration work. This water will be sent to an underground settling pond before being pumped to surface.
As demonstrated in the following figure, the water used for excavation and exploration activities will be treated in several stages, which include very distinct and specific processes, until release concentration objectives are met. The treatment process was developed so that the discharge meets the requirements of Directive 019 sur l’industrie minière of Quebec’s MDDEP and the Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) (SOR/2002-22 and SOR/2006-239) adopted under the Fisheries Act (R.S., 1985, ch F-14).
The fuel farm:
All the tanks in the fuel farm will be built on a membrane designed to prevent hydrocarbons from contaminating the soil in case of an accidental spill. The fuel farm will be inspected daily. Any water that flows into the area will be collected and tested before being released into the environment.
The power plant and ventilation system:
The power plant will power the ventilation and pumping systems. The ventilation system will evacuate the exhaust air to surface during excavation and drilling activities. This system will be equipped with an alarm system in case the ventilation system fails. No exploration activities will take place in ore until the ventilation system is fully operational.
For the advanced exploration phase, the Matoush project will also need underground facilities. The following figure shows a 3-D section of the portal and the decline that Strateco plans to build underground. These facilities will provide access to the -300-metre level underground to excavate drifts that will allow Strateco to carry out exploration, including definition drilling.
What steps are required to start the program?
In April 2008, Strateco received authorization from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to begin the process of obtaining the approvals required for an underground exploration program at its Matoush uranium project.
On July 15, 2008, Strateco presented a Preliminary Project Description to the CNSC, the Canadian Environment Assessment Agency (CEAA) and the Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs du Québec (MDDEP).
On November 5, 2008, the Company filed the first version of the application for an underground exploration permit for its Matoush uranium property with the CNSC. Comments were received from the CNSC on February 16, 2009. The final, official version of the application for a licence for underground exploration work was filed with CNSC on November 6, 2009. The latter application contains a dozen programs and a significant number of sub-programs, all related to occupational health and safety and the environment.
Moreover, Strateco received the COMEV directives for the environmental impact statement on March 19, 2009. Strateco had to complete an environmental assessment in compliance with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) to identify the possible environmental effects of the Matoush project. The environmental impact statement was completed and sent to the regulatory authorities on November 6, 2009.
Following the environmental impact study filing, Strateco received questions and comments that were aimed at expounding on or adding to certain aspects of the Matoush project environmental impact statement required for the licence for the underground exploration phase.
A first series of questions and comments was sent by the CNSC in January 2010. All the questions were answered by Strateco and its consultants and the responses were sent to the CNSC for comments in June 2010.
On April 30, 2010, Strateco also received a request from the federal review panel (FRP-S) for additional information on the Matoush project environmental impact statement. Responses to the questions from the FRP-S and certain federal ministries were filed with the CEAA on August 9, 2010. The filed documents also included responses to questions posed by the public at information meetings and by representatives of the Mistissini Department of the Environment, as well as to additional requests from the CEAA based on Supreme Court of Canada decisions declaring federal jurisdictional control over the environmental study evaluation process, even on projects located in the province of Quebec.
On June 18, 2010, Strateco received provincial review panel’s (COMEX) official questions and comments on the environmental impact statement. An earlier meeting had taken place on June 9, 2010, to discuss these questions with analysts from the MDDEP. The questions and comments from the COMEX are by and large the same as the federal (FRP-S) questions. On September 24, 2010, Strateco filed responses to COMEX questions and comments on the impact statement with the MDDEP.
Responses to all the additional questions on the Matoush project environmental impact statement were therefore provided to the various authorities involved during 2010.
Strateco presented the results of its environmental impact study at public information meetings held in Mistissini and Chibougamau on May 25 and 26, 2010. In November 2010, the Mistissini and Chibougamau public hearings were held to enable the commissioners of FRP-S and the COMEX to assess the public’s points of view on the Matoush project.
In August 2011, the FRP-S and the CNSC submitted their recommendations on the Matoush project underground exploration program to the federal Minister of the Environment. In February 2012, Strateco received the approval from the Minister and the federal administrator of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement for the Matoush project underground exploration program, which is a first for a junior uranium exploration company in Canada. These approvals were an essential step in the process of securing the licence.
The CNSC held public hearings in Mistissini and Chibougamau, from June 5 to 7, 2012, to review Strateco’s application for a site preparation and construction licence for the Matoush project underground exploration program.
On October 16, 2012, the CNSC has granted Strateco the licence for the underground exploration program at the Matoush uranium project. This is a first for a junior company in Canada.
No site work can be done on the underground exploration program until Strateco obtains a certificate of authorization from the MDDELCC. In January 2013, Strateco began legal proceedings aimed at obtaining the former MDDEFP certificate of authorization.
Strateco’s Matoush camp has been on standby since a moratorium and commission of inquiry on Quebec’s uranium industry was announced on March 28, 2013. On June 12, 2014, Strateco announced that it was temporarily closing its Matoush camp in the Otish Mountains, in northern Quebec. This decision is part of a cost cutting program that Strateco adopted due to the Quebec government’s refusal to issue the final permit needed to start the advanced exploration phase of the Matoush project.
What comes after the underground exploration program?
In terms of the upcoming project stages, Strateco must obtain a licence from the CNSC before starting work, as the Matoush underground exploration project is a uranium project. Assuming Strateco gets the licence, the underground exploration program will go ahead. Strateco would expect the program to last 24 to 36 months.
In parallel with these activities, Strateco would start a feasibility study on a future mining project at Matoush. Of course, we cannot complete this study until we know the results of the underground exploration work. The feasibility study would provide an assessment of the economic viability of a mining project at Matoush.
Assuming that Strateco demonstrates that a mining project on the Matoush property is economically viable, a new environmental study process would begin. As they did for the underground exploration phase, government authorities would issue directives for the preparation of an environmental impact statement. This statement would be submitted, reviewed by federal and provincial analysts, and subjected to the same extremely stringent process as the underground exploration phase impact statement. In fact, the steps are virtually the same, but more demanding and with a greater level of study detail.
For a future mining phase, multiple licences are required from the CNSC: one licence is required for the ore processing plant, another for the tailings pond, one for the mine itself, and finally, one for site rehabilitation. There is therefore a very long process to go through with the CNSC before entering the mining phase. Don’t forget, too, that all the licences issued are only valid for a period of two to a maximum of five years, and are then reviewed.
In the event that the feasibility study shows that the project is not economically viable, Strateco would fully restore the site. It is important to mention that the rehabilitation plan must be approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, the MDDEP and the CNSC before construction work even begins. Furthermore, the CNSC requires that Strateco set aside 100% of the rehabilitation funds before starting work.
Before site rehabilitation
After site rehabilitation