EuroNews: 27th October 2021

27th October 2021

 

 
We here at Spotlight have no interest in fossil fuels; they’re awful for the environment and the geology is boring. Uranium is a different matter; it offers abundant, cheap and low-carbon power, plus the geology is diverse and fascinating. But for a while now it has seemed that nuclear power had fallen out of favour in discussions about low-carbon energy generation. The biggest culprit was obviously the Fukushima disaster in 2011, which not only tanked the uranium price but also led to a new wave of anti-nuclear sentiment around the globe. On top of this, renewable energies and complementary battery technologies are advancing in leaps and bounds, and it is starting to look to many people like they can offer a complete solution for decarbonisation in the very near future. But some places are better situated for renewables than others, and the intense power demands of heavy industry are still difficult to meet with renewables. Companies and nations are therefore starting to look to nuclear once again, and the advances in Small Modular Reactor (SMR) technology have made this more feasible. One country in the EU that is looking at SMRs right now is Poland.

So what exactly is being proposed? There are currently two deals on the table in Poland. The first is a Memorandum of Understanding between Cameco, a huge global supplier of uranium fuel products, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and its Canadian SMR division GEH SMR Technologies Canada, and Polish synthetic rubber and raw chemical producer Synthos Green Energy (SGE). SGE is interested in a fleet of Canadian-supplied BWRX-300 SMRs which it hopes will provide “affordable, on-demand, carbon-free electricity from a dependable, dedicated source.” The second deal is another Memorandum of Understanding between SMR developer NuScale Power, Polish copper and silver producer KGHM, and business engineering advisory consultancy PBE. NuScale’s technology would see existing coal-fired plants repurposed as SMRs, and the company’s press release on the matter touted the “clean, reliable and affordable energy” its reactors offered. Both deals envisage the commissioning of any reactors somewhere around the 2030 mark.

The SMR makers are looking to enter an energy market in Poland that is not used to nuclear.  Currently, the nation’s only nuclear energy is generated by the small research MARIA reactor, and as of 2018, 78% of its energy generation came from coal and a further 7% from natural gas.  Backing this up are the largest coal reserves in Europe, estimated at 17.5 billion tons, and Poland lags behind only Germany in the EU coal production stakes.  This means that from an energy security and independence perspective, Poland’s reliance on coal makes a lot of sense.  It produces small amounts of its own oil and natural gas, but it a large net importer of both from Russia, meaning that with the current EU energy crunch that is creating an opportunity for Russian power plays, Poland, like the rest of the EU, could suffer long, cold winters with insufficient energy supply for its population under the current arrangements.

But there is a political furore brewing over the SMRs, and like most markets that nuclear tries to enter, there’s division in the community over whether atomic power is a good idea.  Spotlight staff based in Poland report that the issue is dominating the news cycle and fears are high.  The population remembers Chernobyl, for a start, and does not necessarily have faith in its regulators to prevent a similar occurrence in Poland.  Anti-nuclear Germany is also very influential in the country, and of course there are enormous concerns about the financial costs of the reactors.  The Polish government is officially in support of the move, but the people remain heavily divided, seeing a potential major conflict of interest for the government in terms of who should be involved in the reactor construction and investment.  This was all in response to the industrial SMRs, but was further exacerbated earlier this month when France’s EDF offered to supply up to 9.9 gigawatts of nuclear power for mainly civil use.

Personally, I think the proposal to move to nuclear is not just a good idea in environmental terms.  Poland has skated by with heavy reliance on coal in the EU due in large part due to energy security concerns, with the bloc not wanting to see it increase its dependence on Russian oil and gas.  For that reason, it got away with being the only EU member not to ratify a “climate neutrality by 2050” target in 2019.  But the country still faces pressure to green its energy supply, and SMRs are a good start.  Moreover, Poland is not the only jurisdiction looking at the technology to power heavy industry.  For example, in remote Yakutia, Russia is looking to a single RITM-200N reactor to fuel development of the Kyuchus gold field, where there is virtually no infrastructure in place.  Estimates for the zone total as much as 250 tons of gold, and the reactor could also supply power to the surrounding region, improving quality of life in the sparsely populated area.  The Baimskaya copper-gold project at Chukotka, also in the Russian Arctic, will also be powered by nuclear energy from 2027.

Clearly, nuclear is still an attractive option at least for industrial power generation, and it looks like it will be for some time to come.  SMRs can be installed in remote areas where resources would otherwise be hard to exploit, and in more populated zones it can drive processing and production more reliably than renewables are yet capable of.  There are still likely decades ahead of us in which nuclear power, in tandem with ever-improving renewables, is a good solution for energy generation in the face of the climate crisis.

Around the Traps

Aurion Resources (TSXV:AU, OTCQX:AIRRF) announced this week that its joint venture partner in the Kutuvuoma-Ikkari gold corridor in Finland, B2Gold Corp. (TSX:BTO), has found a broad zone of mineralisation in its discovery drilling on the JV project.  The drilling occurred just 1.3 km west and along strike from the geological sequence hosting Rupert Resources’s (TSXV:RUP) amazing Ikkari discovery.  The early part of B2Gold’s 5,000 m drill campaign returned highlights including 1.85 g/t Au over 52.4 m, with substantial intercepts of higher grades included.

Another gold junior doing excellent work in Lapland is Firefox Gold (TSXV:FFOX, OTCQB:FFOXF).  They’ve just announcedbase-of-till sampling results, the same strategy used by Rupert to find Ikkari.  Firefox has discovered multiple robust gold and pathfinder trace element anomalies on their Jeesiö project, each of which is associated with major interpreted structures and magnetic anomalies.  The company is now readying drills to start turning in November.

If the Aurion/B2Gold and Firefox results have piqued your interest in Lapland gold, you can read a great overview of the potential and Rupert’s work in the region at the company’s website here, or find out more about the Ikkari project’s rocket-speed trajectory from discovery to resource estimate here.

For those of you who know a company’s financials are of paramount importance, Prospech (ASX:PRS), which has 6 precious metals licenses in Slovakia, has released its quarterly cash flow report.

That’s all for this month’s EuroNews, I’ll be in touch on Friday with Spotlight’s weekly Round-Up!

Jane Lockwood

View posts by Jane Lockwood
Jane Lockwood is an Australian geoscientist living and working in Germany. She holds a Master's of Earth Science (Advanced) from the Australian National University and has spent several years reporting on the junior mining industry for Spotlight Mining, as well as conducting social media management for junior mining companies.