The Russian invasion of Ukraine has ushered in a new geopolitical reality. Energy prices are up. Metals prices are up. And supply chains are under pressure.
Governments know this, and none more so than the US government, which is currently grappling with surging inflation and question marks about the future of its energy supply.
In response, President Biden has invoked an old law aimed at stimulated the production of strategic minerals inside the US.
Likely, he’ll have to do more if he doesn’t want his party to suffer too heavily in the upcoming polls this November.
More nuclear power is one option. As yet, the US hasn’t actually banned the importation of Russian uranium, but if the war in Ukraine drags on, it seems inevitable that it will do.
When the moment comes, uranium from North America will suddenly be at a premium, and companies like Thor Mining PLC (AIM:THR, OTC:THORF, ASX:THR) will be in pole position to benefit.
Thor’s uranium portfolio has sometimes struggled for attention amidst the company’s other promising exploration and development assets: the Ragged Range gold-lithium-nickel project in the Pilbara, the Alford East copper project, a 30% stake in EnviroCopper, and the long-standing Molyhil tungsten and molybdenum project, all in Australia.
Overall, it’s an attractive asset base. Big upside is on offer at Ragged Range, where drilling will recommence in June. At the Alford East copper project an in-situ leaching extraction process is envisaged, making its ESG credentials second to none. And at Molyhil, an earlier feasibility study is now being re-worked to take into account the results of additional drilling and a likely addition to the existing resource base.
But it’s in Utah and Colorado, where Thor holds its uranium and vanadium exploration licences that the biggest potential lies.
One reason for that is that the uranium price has already risen dramatically in response to the new geopolitical circumstances, and is likely to remain high or go higher. And Thor already has plenty of evidence of uranium on its ground. So we’re not talking moose pasture here. Not at all.
“Our biggest value driver lies in our uranium asset in the US,” says Thor’s managing director Nicole Galloway Warland.
“We have sandstone-hosted high-grade, shallow uranium and vanadium targets,” she says.
Drilling is planned for the late spring or early summer, and Galloway Warland is feeling upbeat about what it will deliver.
“I am quite confident we will intercept uranium and vanadium,” she says.
“We know the units. The question is what thickness the intercepts will be.”
Historic work has already established that grade is likely to be high, and although there are certain technical challenges involved in processing vanadium and uranium together, Thor already has a plan for that – there’s a nearby plant at which the ore can be toll treated.
So what we’re really talking about here is a clear path to value creation. The mineralization is already known, and to a degree it’s already understood too. There’s a processing route already in place. What’s needed now, and what the upcoming work programme will provide, is a clear understanding of size and scale. With that in place, a clearer understanding of what’s really on offer inside the US uranium portfolio will begin to emerge.
While that’s going on, though, work will also continue on Ragged Range and Alford East. Both these projects will also be the subject of drill programmes in the next few months, and as a consequence the newsflow will be coming out of Thor thick and fast.
At Ragged Range it’s still fairly early stage. But the potential is clear enough – the project is located in a jurisdiction that’s already known for large scale gold deposits, and Thor has identified a 13 kilometre-long corridor that looks highly prospective.
And at Alford East, the aim will be to add to an already established resource of 177,000 tonnes, with one intercept showing 73 metres of core grading 1% copper from a depth of six metres. Much to build on here too, then.
But not content with all that, Thor is also shortly to undertake early stage exploration for nickel and lithium on its Australian properties too.
“There’s a nickel gossan that we’re doing some geophysics on in a few weeks time,” says Galloway Warland.
“It extends over a kilometre and is 100 metres wide. Hopefully, it’s a sulphide.”
A nickel sulphide would certainly be a welcome addition to an already diverse portfolio of assets that Galloway Warland regards as being replete with “metals for the future.”
Whether gold falls under that umbrella is open to question.
But gold is the perfect hedge for everything, and what junior miner wouldn’t want it in its portfolio?