Great Western’s radioactive REE gambit

This is definitely one of those stories that you have to save so that in two years or so you can sit back and ask, “Whatever happened with that?”

Yes, somewhat cynical, but the Globe and Mail ran a REE feature over the weekend; it focused on TSX Venture-listed Great Western Minerals Group and its attempts to revive South Africa’s Steenkampskraal mine, which has been dormant for 48 years.

“A small company with a market valuation of less than $300-million and a share price below $1 – is hoping to reopen the long-abandoned mine as swiftly as possible, as it races against a group of other upstart rare-earth companies to bring new production to market,” the newspaper reported.

There are, of course, a few problems that might give one pause.

The mine at Steenkampskraal contains some of the world’s richest grades of rare earths. But the ore also contains thorium, which is highly radioactive, creating problems of storage and disposal. The mine site is riddled with radioactive waste from its production years of 1952 to 1963,” the newspaper reported.

Given the amount of radiation at the site, Great Western employees are required to carry dosimeters and wear plastic covers on their shoes as they tramp around the mine site.

That shouldn’t slow down this fast-track project. Great Western hopes to start production in South Africa by the end of next year, about 18 months ahead of the original schedule.

Here’s a dubious bonus: When Great Western acquired the mine, it inherited a deal from the South African government that exempts it from royalty payments if it cleans up the radioactive waste material on the site.

Score.

Still, if Great Western is successful, the South African mine can produce a range of rare-earth minerals. It aims to produce about 5,000 tonnes of rare-earth oxides annually at the South African mine – almost double its original plan of 2,700 tonnes, the newspaper said.

This output will be integrated with its plants in Britain and the United States where it produces rare-earth alloys for use in magnets, batteries and aerospace products.

And here’s the very definition of can-do optimism: “If we’re first into production with all of the rare earths and the downstream capacity, it will make us a leader in this game,” President and CEO James Engdahl told the newspaper.

Watch this space.