A tale of two uranium hopefuls

TWO of the more advanced uranium hopefuls on the Australian Securities Exchange, Bannerman Energy and Aura Energy, were spruiking their wares at the recent PAC Partners Uranium Forum.
A tale of two uranium hopefuls A tale of two uranium hopefuls A tale of two uranium hopefuls A tale of two uranium hopefuls A tale of two uranium hopefuls

Production is where Bannerman and Aura are hoping to head

Haydn Black


Both argue that, after countercyclical work in the nuclear wilderness years, they have shovel-ready projects in Africa in pole position for development.
Bannerman has been grinding away de-risking and right-sizing its Etango project in Namibia, one of the world's premier uranium destinations, completing a pilot plant and multiple feasibility studies.
Aura argues with Tiris it has one of the lowest cost opportunities on the planet, in the emerging jurisdiction of Mauritania.
Both are just waiting on the conditions to be right.
Bannerman managing director Brandon Munro believes a price of around US$80 per pound will be needed to get uranium projects moving globally.
"I don't know a project in the world that's producing lower capital costs right now in the current inflationary environment," Munro said of the current proposal, slimmed down from its original 20Mtpa option producing 7.2Mlbpa.
While the Etango resource is "enormous" at over 208 million pounds grading 220 parts per million, the company is chasing the smaller Etango-8 option.
At 3.5Mlbpa, Etango-8 is still enough to support 7-8 gigawatts of nuclear power.
"It gets us into production, with lower hurdles, and gives us options to expand," Munro said.
The company has a new definitive feasibility study due within weeks, with plans to move into front-end engineering and design in 2023.
With concerns mounting for uranium oxide supply issues from the middle of the decade, Munro argues Etango is the right orebody, in the perfect destination, with a low technical risk thanks to its pilot plant trials.
"We have worked on this for over 15 years, and it is a conventional truck and shovel operation, with conventional reagents, and we absolutely beyond doubt will have the recoveries we expect," he said.
Over in western Africa's Sahara Desert, Aura non-executive director Bryan Dixon said his company is also planning on rapid development for its Tiris project, claiming it has an "extremely low-cost stage one for 800,000lbpa", that get it into production and allows it to expand to 3-3.5Mlba using modular technology.
While Mauritania isn't known for its uranium production, Tiris is largely permitted, and because of its unique metallurgical process, is positioned to be one of the lowest cost hard rock uranium mines in the world. 
"We have very cheap mining costs, because we have pits that are at most 4-8m deep, with free digging ore that does not require drill and blast or crushing and grinding," Dixon said.
While the Tiris resource is smaller than Etango at 56Mlb at 253ppm, Dixon says it upgrades around 500% to 1500ppm using a simple wet screening process that rejects about 80% of the mass.
"Suddenly it goes from a low-grade to high-grade deposit, and the backend only needs to process 150,000tpa," Dixon said.
Stage one needs just one excavator and four 50t trucks operating on a single shift.
Aura is hoping to take a final investment decision in the March quarter of 2023 and needs just US$75 million to get into production.
"Finance is the missing piece," Dixon said. 
An expansion study is already underway and drilling to upgrade the resource has been completed.
It aims to be in production by 2025 and has a partial offtake with Curzon Resources.
Aura reckons Tiris stage one has an internal rate of return 22% and after-tax cashflow of $289 million. All-in sustaining costs are put at $29/lb for stage one, and should fall for stage two, further improved by any vanadium by-product production. 
Stage two would also benefit from sunk costs.
Bannerman has estimates Etango-8 will cost more to develop, about $274 million, but will be later.
Cash costs are estimated at $39/lb, with Etango-8 having a post-tax net present value of $222 million, and IRR of 20%. 
Tiris phase would produce 12.4Mlb over 15 years, while Etango-8 targets 53Mlb over the same period.
Bannerman shares were last traded at 1.86, valuing it at $278 million, while Aura shares were last 27c, capitalising it at $144 million.

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