To Invest in Sweden’s Uranium Exploration or Not?
There is a compelling political development in Sweden you should know about. The outcome could very well impact the world’s anti-nuclear movement and open the doors to a wave of more aggressive nuclear energy build up. Sweden has long been a bellwether for social progress and change. Shortly after Three Mile Island, the Swedes held a referendum on expanding nuclear energy in their country. Sweden voted it down. But, political climates change. What happens in Sweden could help change attitudes toward nuclear energy in Australia, Germany and elsewhere.
A country’s election can have a widespread ripple effect on an industry. Sweden’s four-party opposition bloc, known as the Alliance, is challenging the Social Democrat-led government for control of the Riksdag, the country’s parliament. One of the Alliance’s main objectives is to cut the country’s property tax, and eventually remove it. Each year, Swedes must pay a tax equivalent to one percent of a single family home’s tax value. The other item on the Alliance’s agenda is moving forward with the country’s nuclear energy policy.
Exactly two months from now, on September 17th, we predict Swedish voters will choose the center-right alliance, comprised of the Moderates, Liberals, Christian Democrats and the Centre party. Amid other reforms, Sweden’s nuclear energy and uranium policies may be revived. The Centre party, which had supported phasing out nuclear power, has now thrown in its lot with the Alliance, realizing there isn’t an alternative to nuclear for the time being.
Sweden’s Dependency on Nuclear Energy
At first glance, we bought the same anti-nuclear propaganda the rest of the world’s media swallowed. In other words, we were misled into believing Sweden was phasing out its nuclear power plants. Perhaps, you had also concluded Sweden was shutting down its nuclear fleet. The reality is quite the opposite. Only two reactors have been shut down – one in November 1999 and another in June 2005. The country’s ten nuclear reactors produce about 75 billion kWh. This has accounted for as much as 51 percent of Sweden’s electricity production! In 2005, about four percent of Sweden’s electricity was exported.
The major media would have us believe Swedes are anti-nuclear. This conclusion was reached after Sweden’s 1980 referendum on the country’s nuclear power program. But, Swedish voters were offered three very limited choices about continuing the build up on Sweden’s nuclear energy program, to which the answers could only have been: NO, No and no, depending upon the loudness with which a voter voiced his “no.” Few were surprised at the outcome. Yet, no reactors were phased out until nearly two decades later. What was never publicized was that a clear majority of the Swedish voters believed the existing reactors should continue running until new energy sources replaced nuclear.
A 1996 survey conducted by the Confederation of Swedish Industries appalled the anti-nuclear movement – about 80 percent of those surveyed were in favor of nuclear power. Subsequent Swedish polls showed as few as 10 percent of those surveyed wanted nuclear energy phased out. About the same percentage wants to protect Sweden’s four remaining rivers from future hydro construction. By contrast, three-quarters of Swedes polled gave “restraining greenhouse gas emissions” the highest environmental priority.
Sweden depends upon fossil fuels for less than ten percent of its electricity generation. You do the math. For future electricity generation, Swedes must face a choice between increasing their nuclear power capacity and escalating their meager dependence upon fossil fuels. A March 2005 poll revealed an astounding 83 percent of those surveyed would support the country’s plans to maintain, or even increase, its nuclear power program.
The choice may already exist in Swedish laws. A spokesman for the German Atomic Forum, Christian Woessner, pointed out in a recent media interview, “Under Swedish law the (nuclear) plants can not be closed until there is a viable alternative.” Because Sweden is about 47-percent dependent on nuclear power, Swedish parliament has repeatedly delayed plans to shut down it stations. What once were target dates of 2010 have been reportedly moved back as far away as the year 2050. A recent Swedish article discussed a summary of investments in the country’s energy sector through the end of the decade. More than 25 percent will be invested in modernizing and upgrading Swedish nuclear plants.
Increased Uranium Exploration Activity
At this time, uranium mining is banned in Sweden. Will that soon change? In November 2005, Platts carried a news item that the world’s second largest uranium producer Cogema, a subsidiary of Areva, was spending about 1.7 million euros on prospecting in Sweden. The industry giant announced plans to narrow down mining sites, after its initial prospecting. Krister Soederholm, chief inspector of mining at the Ministry of Trade & Industry, told Platts that Sweden would respond positively if Cogema’s activity “would be of significant benefit to the country.” Conscientious Sweden is still reeling from a recent media expose showing that the country now imports a large portion of its uranium from Kazakhstan, where mining conditions are reportedly abysmal.
On July 11th, one Canadian-traded uranium development company announced its NI 43-101 resource for three of its uranium properties in Sweden. We spoke with Michael Hudson, Chief Executive of Mawson Resources (TSX: MAW; Frankfurt: MRY), about the company’s prospects. First, he explained that Sweden hasn’t had any uranium drilling since about 1984 or 1985. “It’s the only part of the nuclear cycle the Swedes are missing out on,” Hudson told us. He hopes to bring uranium mining back to Sweden.
Mawson has focused its exploration/development efforts in the northerly provinces. “Those are mining districts,” said Hudson. “People are comfortable with mining in that part of the world.” In the past three years, three new mines have been opened. Despite the latitude, Hudson explained, “Mines up there are running all year around.” On that basis, Hudson began negotiating for uranium properties in late 2003, before the uranium bull market had gained traction. He began acquiring properties, previously drilled by the Swedish government at a cost of $46 million in 1970s dollars.
The company plans further exploration on three of its eight uranium properties. Upon announcing that the National Instrument 43-101 confirmed the company’s uranium resources in Sweden, the same announcement confirmed the magnitude of the exploration target on its largest property, Tasjo. According to the company’s website, “83 drill holes have been drilled… over an area of approximately 10 kilometres by 20 kilometres.” It’s a vast target, between seven and ten kilometers, to explore. Hudson said, “We’re going to put a few thousand meters into that in September or October.” The company plans to spend about C$2 million of its C$9 million further exploring its properties over the next 12 to 18 months.
Previous government exploration at Tasjo wasn’t as structured as many of today’s mining companies would like. “A lot of it (the tonnage) hasn’t been counted,” Hudson told us. “We went through the data in cardboard boxes. The data hadn’t been out of the boxes since the mid 1970s, and the last drilling was done in the 1980s.” Hudson said his team plans to set up a grid and methodically drill it out, as opposed to how it was drilled before. The prize could be enormous as some historical estimates ran as high as 116 million pounds of U3O8 at Tasjo. But, those figures require modern exploration for regulatory compliant verification. Hudson emphasized, “Because of how the work was done, we’re not happy to quote those resources.”
While the drilling may have been less methodical, Hudson praises the Swedes for their storage capabilities, “The Swedes claim they’ve got the largest core yard in the world.” For the past seven years, Hudson rented a house in Sweden in the same town where the core shack is located. “This is all professionally stored in huge warehouses, all recorded and registered,” he explained. “At your request, they will pull out the core with forklifts.” According to Hudson, the data is all there, about 98 percent (or more) of the drill databases, including the assays and surveys. “We’ve got the data, and our people are scanning and inputting the data,” he added.
We talked about the other uranium properties, some of the better of which could have as much as 30 million pounds of uranium oxide. “The better project, from a short-term perspective is Klappibacken,” Hudson noted. Historical estimated were compiled by the Swedish Geological Survey (SGU) in 1984, when the property was last explored. Thirty-two drill holes were completed in an area about the size of a football field. The recent Canadian regulatory approved report showed an indicated resource of about two million pounds. This was considered to be a minimum because uranium mineralization was still open laterally and at depth. Hudson was excited about the Klappibacken property, “It’s over $100 per ton in uranium value. It’s wide and thick from surface. We’re trying to get something up to prefeasibility.”
The Duobblon property confirmed previous SGU drilling of fifty-five holes, which was done between 1976 and 1979. The most promising of that drilling may be the central zone, where thirty-five holes were drilled over a strike length of one kilometer. Another four kilometers, of what Mawson believes may be the host resource, remains undrilled. This may be a near-surface opportunity, possibly for open pit mining. Uranium mineralization extends from three meters below the surface to at least 300 meters of vertical depth.
We barely discussed the Flistjarn project during our phone conversation, except in passing. This may be an area where Mawson may find an Athabasca-style deposit, based upon how the company interprets the vein and unconformity-related mineralization hosted by a block of Paleozoic sediments thrust over Precambrian volcanoes. First explored by the SGU in 1977 as a way to determine if Sweden could be uranium-independent, it was financed by the Swedish Nuclear Fuel Supply Company, SKBF. Mawson released results of grab and channel samples in December 2005.
According to Hudson, some of the samples have run up to 20 percent uranium. “Getting these shipped out of Sweden is a challenge, especially with the high grade ones,” he told us. “We have to wrap them in lots of lead, so a few kilos of rock become 40 kilos of lead-covered boxes.” Nothing has been released on Flistjarn since the values were announced, and the property was not mentioned in the recent NI 43-101 announcement.
Sweden should become an excellent test case for a change in Australia’s Three-Mines policy. Sweden’s September election could officially set back the worldwide anti-nuclear movement and further change attitudes in the European Union. This weekend’s G8 Summit in St. Petersburg may have already spurred emotions for a more favorable climate toward nuclear energy.
Uranium mining, the front end of the nuclear cycle, is sometimes ignored in the greater scheme of the nuclear renaissance. Yet, if a country hopes to become energy independent, it must cultivate its domestic resources. Sweden, again, may become a test case on this point as well. One of the key points, which caught our eye about Mawson Resources, and the primary reason we discussed the company’s prospects at length was its technical team. To be taken seriously, a country’s mining officials want to know the personalities behind the company. As did we.
Unlike many other companies we’ve reviewed, Mawson assembled a proven mining team. At the top is Andrew Browne, who was the Competent Person to sign off on Australia’s Jabiluka uranium project, as well as the team leader for the discovery of the Ranger 68 uranium deposit in Australia’s Northern Territory. He’s not alone on this team who has been credited with an exploration discovery. CEO Michael Hudson discovered the Portia copper-gold project, also having delineated and developed other minerals projects in Australia. Mark Saxon, who will oversee Mawson’s exploration in Sweden, discovered the Browns Tunnel zinc-lead project in Tasmania. David Henstridge, a company director, discovered the Bigrlyi uranium project in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Another feather in the Mawson hat is their financing. The world’s richest man has invested in this Vancouver-based uranium company. No, not Bill Gates. According to a June 30th Reuters news service report, the world’s richest man is now Ingvar Kamprad. Reportedly, Mr. Kamprad is now allegedly worth about $6 billion more than Mr. Gates. Haven’t heard the name before? Kamprad founded the furniture chain Ikea, which has more than 230 stores in 34 countries. According to Hudson, Kamprad took part in the Mawson private placement. Another familiar uranium investor is the money management firm, Sprott Asset Management.
As Hudson told us, “There’s less technical risk with our projects, but more political risk. People want to punt on the political change, essentially.” This may well come about after September 17th. And, if it doesn’t? “We have a couple of backup plans,” Hudson told us. Mawson has been looking eastward at Finland, a country which soon plans to bring online the EU’s first new nuclear reactor. And there is another European country with an advanced uranium project, with which Hudson is currently undergoing negotiations. By the way, having started as a gold exploration company, Mawson also has a few gold properties, eight of which have been farmed out to another junior exploration company. Mawson may be preparing for the worst, but could be celebrating a political victory in Sweden come the end of September.