The Story of Voisey’s Bay: The Discovery (1 of 3)
The Story of Voisey’s Bay: The Discovery (Part 1 of 3)
Presented by: Equitas Resources, “Nickel exploration in Labrador”
The legendary story of one of Canada’s most significant base metal discoveries happened just before the dawn of the internet era. While some investors recall the sequence of events and the value that was created by Diamond Fields, there are many investors today, both new and old, who are not familiar with the story of Voisey’s Bay.
For this infographic, we have turned to Jacquie McNish’s fabulous book The Big Score, which documents the history of the discovery, biographical elements of Robert Friedland’s life, and the ensuing bidding war between Inco and Falconbridge that led to one of the most spectacular takeovers in mining history. If you like these infographics, then look into buying Jacquie’s book. It was gripping and full of information.
By its very definition, a discovery is the breakthrough action of finding something of value that no one knew existed. Discoveries come in all shapes and sizes – but it turns out many of the very best discoveries happen in the most unsuspecting of conditions.
Labrador is located on the Northeast tip of Quebec in Canada, and it’s in this remote area that the Voisey’s Bay discovery takes place. Labrador is bigger than Great Britain and has over 8,000km of coastline, yet only a population of just 26,700. For context, caribou outnumber people in Labrador by a ratio of 13:1.
In 1985, geologists of the Newfoundland Department of Mines and Energy conducted a survey of one of the most remote parts of Labrador. Voisey’s Bay is 35km from Nain, a small town of 1,000 people.
The team, in a helicopter-supported survey, tested samples in the area, but were not encouraged by the low metal content of the weathered rocks exposed at surface. They left and didn’t look back.
In early 1993, Michael McMurrough of a fledgling company called Diamond Fields Resources was looking for untapped diamond properties to add to the company’s property portfolio. He had heard that a place called “Labrador” had ancient Archean rock formations – one of the earth’s oldest rock groups – where diamonds can form in kimberlite pipes. While Labrador’s wealth in iron ore is well-documented, no diamonds have ever been discovered in the region.
Diamond Fields’ geologist, Rod Baker, was sent to Newfoundland in April 1993 but found that the best diamond prospects had just been staked by two Newfoundlanders. Al Chislett and Chris Verbiski, and their prospecting outfit named Archean Resources, eventually convinced Diamond Fields to pay $372,000 in annual instalments over four years to acquire their claims. Diamond Fields also agreed to pay $500,000 to start an exploration program.
The two prospectors sampled throughout the summer of 1993 without much luck, but they did chip some samples of chalcopyrite, a copper-bearing mineral, from an outcrop. The samples came back with 2% copper, and they pushed for Diamond Fields to put more money into the exploration program.
At this time, Diamond Fields was a fledgling company. Running under Robert Friedland’s umbrella of Ivanhoe Capital, the company had its share of issues. Legal problems were mounting, and the company had finally just raised cash in a desperation move: the company impressed investors with its idea of “vacuuming” diamonds off the seafloor near Namibia.
It was company geologist Richard Garnett that convinced the board of Diamond Fields to pursue the Labrador findings, which he had been tracking. The company eventually was able to allocate $220,000 to Labrador – or 40% of what Chislett and Verbiski recommended for follow-up spending.
In August 1994, the prospectors received more detailed assays from the samples they collected – assays that confirmed a multi-element deposit with cobaltite, copper, magnetite, and exceptionally high amounts of nickel. In fall, the team tried to beat winter by executing the next phase of exploration.
On drill hole number two: they hit. The drill core was yellow – not from gold, but from high-grade massive sulphides. The hole was 33 metres long, and signified that Diamond Fields was finally onto something.
At this point, Robert Friedland reigned in control of the company with one mission: to auction off the discovery for the highest price.
Visualizing the Uranium Mining Industry in 3 Charts
These visuals highlight the uranium mining industry and its output, as well as the trajectory of nuclear energy from 1960 to today.
When uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, it’s likely the German chemist didn’t know how important the element would become to human life.
Used minimally in glazing and ceramics, uranium was originally mined as a byproduct of producing radium until the late 1930s. However, the discovery of nuclear fission, and the potential promise of nuclear power, changed everything.
What’s the current state of the uranium mining industry? This series of charts from Truman Du highlights production and the use of uranium using 2021 data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and Our World in Data.
Who are the Biggest Uranium Miners in the World?
Most of the world’s biggest uranium suppliers are based in countries with the largest uranium deposits, like Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada.
The largest of these companies is Kazatomprom, a Kazakhstani state-owned company that produced 25% of the world’s new uranium supply in 2021.
As seen in the above chart, 94% of the roughly 48,000 tonnes of uranium mined globally in 2021 came from just 13 companies.
|Rank||Company||2021 Uranium Production (tonnes)||Percent of Total|
|3||🇷🇺 Uranium One||4,514||9%|
|6||🇺🇿 Navoi Mining||3,500||7%|
|9||🇦🇺 General Atomics/Quasar||2,241||5%|
|11||🇬🇧 Energy Asia||900||2%|
France’s Orano, another state-owned company, was the world’s second largest producer of uranium at 4,541 tonnes.
Companies rounding out the top five all had similar uranium production numbers to Orano, each contributing around 9% of the global total. Those include Uranium One from Russia, Cameco from Canada, and CGN in China.
Where are the Largest Uranium Mines Found?
The majority of uranium deposits around the world are found in 16 countries with Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada accounting for for nearly 40% of recoverable uranium reserves.
But having large reserves doesn’t necessarily translate to uranium production numbers. For example, though Australia has the biggest single deposit of uranium (Olympic Dam) and the largest reserves overall, the country ranks fourth in uranium supplied, coming in at 9%.
Here are the top 10 uranium mines in the world, accounting for 53% of the world’s supply.
Of the largest mines in the world, four are found in Kazakhstan. Altogether, uranium mined in Kazakhstan accounted for 45% of the world’s uranium supply in 2021.
|Uranium Mine||Country||Main Owner||2021 Production|
|Cigar Lake||🇨🇦 Canada||Cameco/Orano||4,693t|
|Inkai 1-3||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazaktomprom/Cameco||3,449t|
|Husab||🇳🇦 Namibia||Swakop Uranium (CGN)||3,309t|
|Karatau (Budenovskoye 2)||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Uranium One/Kazatomprom||2,561t|
|Four Mile||🇦🇺 Australia||Quasar||2,241t|
|Olympic Dam||🇦🇺 Australia||BHP Billiton||1,922t|
|Central Mynkuduk||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Ortalyk||1,579t|
|Kharasan 1||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazatomprom/Uranium One||1,579t|
Namibia, which has two of the five largest uranium mines in operation, is the second largest supplier of uranium by country, at 12%, followed by Canada at 10%.
Interestingly, the owners of these mines are not necessarily local. For example, France’s Orano operates mines in Canada and Niger. Russia’s Uranium One operates mines in Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Tanzania. China’s CGN owns mines in Namibia.
And despite the African continent holding a sizable amount of uranium reserves, no African company placed in the top 10 biggest companies by production. Sopamin from Niger was the highest ranked at #12 with 809 tonnes mined.
Uranium Mining and Nuclear Energy
Uranium mining has changed drastically since the first few nuclear power plants came online in the 1950s.
For 30 years, uranium production grew steadily due to both increasing demand for nuclear energy and expanding nuclear arsenals, eventually peaking at 69,692 tonnes mined in 1980 at the height of the Cold War.
Nuclear energy production (measured in terawatt-hours) also rose consistently until the 21st century, peaking in 2001 when it contributed nearly 7% to the world’s energy supply. But in the years following, it started to drop and flatline.
By 2021, nuclear energy had fallen to 4.3% of global energy production. Several nuclear accidents—Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima—contributed to turning sentiment against nuclear energy.
|% of Total Energy|
More recently, a return to nuclear energy has gained some support as countries push for transitions to cleaner energy, since nuclear power generates no direct carbon emissions.
What’s Next for Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear remains one of the least harmful sources of energy, and some countries are pursuing advancements in nuclear tech to fight climate change.
Small, modular nuclear reactors are one of the current proposed solutions to both bring down costs and reduce construction time of nuclear power plants. The benefits include smaller capital investments and location flexibility by trading off energy generation capacity.
With countries having to deal with aging nuclear reactors and climate change at the same time, replacements need to be considered. Will they come in the form of new nuclear power and uranium mining, or alternative sources of energy?
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