The Discovery of the Phoenix Deposit: A New High-Grade, Athabasca Basin Unconformity-Type Uranium Deposit, Saskatchewan, Canada
C. Kerr William, 2010. "The Discovery of the Phoenix Deposit: A New High-Grade, Athabasca Basin Unconformity-Type Uranium Deposit, Saskatchewan, Canada", The Challenge of Finding New Mineral Resources: Global Metallogeny, Innovative Exploration, and New Discoveries, Richard J. Goldfarb, Erin E. Marsh, Thomas Monecke
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The Wheeler River property, host to the Phoenix deposit, is located in the Athabasca basin, northern Saskatchewan, 35 km southwest of the McArthur River uranium mine complex. Depths to the unconformity between the overlying Paleoproterozoic to Mesoproterozoic undeformed Athabasca Group sandstones and the underlying Paleoproterozoic and Archean crystalline basement range from 170 to 600 m, which is shallow by Athabasca basin standards. The Wheeler and McArthur River properties were explored simultaneously, with fairly similar budgets, continuously from 1975 to 1988, until the McArthur River discovery in 1988. Subsequent to that, exploration on the Wheeler River property continued at minimal budget levels until Denison became the operator in 2004. Fifty-eight holes, each about 450 m, were drilled during the next four years prior to the Phoenix discovery hole, WR-249, which intersected 1.06 percent U3O8 over 2.35 m in the summer of 2008.
The Phoenix uranium deposit is a blind deposit (i.e., there is no indication of uranium at surface) located at a depth of 400 m. However, there were favorable regional features including a quartzite unit within the crystalline basement and extensive dravite-altered sandstones overlying the quartzite. Discovery drill hole WR-249 tested a direct current (DC)-resistivity anomaly adjacent to the quartzite unit, targeting an interpreted alteration chimney in the sandstone. Alteration chimneys represent clay alteration and structural disruption above unconformity or basement-hosted mineralization. Drill hole WR-251 tested the same resistivity low 600 m along strike to the southwest and also intersected favorable alteration, structures, and mineralization.
Sandstone alteration is similar to that described from other unconformity-associated Athabasca basin uranium deposits and consists of silicification, desilicification, rotated bedding, drusy quartz, hydrothermal hematite, and a gray, pyritic zone. Alteration of the sandstone visually reaches a maximum height of 200 m above the unconformity. Basement alteration consists of irregular drusy quartz, often with clay gouge in the pelitic gneiss. The basement in the northeast part of the Phoenix deposit is much more bleached and clay altered than that to the southwest.
To date (April 2010), the Phoenix deposit has been drill tested for >1 km of strike at generally 50-m spacings and remains open along strike to the northeast and southwest. The mineralization is primarily sandstone-hosted monomineralic uraninite, as pitchblende. Most mineralization occurs at or above the unconformity and is associated with a steeply easterly dipping, graphitic pelite basement unit, which has a maximum thickness of 75 m. Mineralization is generally located along the eastern margin of the quartzite ridge, within 25 m of the lithologic contacts of this unit. The mineralization is also directly associated with a thin, generally <1-m-wide, graphitic structure termed the WS shear. This is the only structural control recognized to date. The most enriched intersection is from drill hole WR-273, which returned 62.6 percent U3O8 over 6.0 m. This represents the highest grade thickness reported worldwide from any uranium exploration property in the past decade. The mineralization drilled to date is estimated to contain from 45 to 95 million pounds (Mlb) U3O8, making Phoenix, even at the lower figure, the sixth largest known individual deposit in the Athabasca basin.
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The Challenge of Finding New Mineral Resources: Global Metallogeny, Innovative Exploration, and New Discoveries
VOLCANIC-ASSOCIATED and sedimentary-exhalative massive sulfide deposits on land account for more than one-half of the world's total past production and current reserves of zinc and lead, 7 percent of the copper, 18 percent of the silver, and a significant amount of gold and other by-product metals (Singer, 1995). A new source of these metals is now being considered for exploitation from deep-sea massive sulfide deposits. Because the oceans cover more than 70 percent of the Earth's surface, many expect the ocean floor to host a proportionately large number of these deposits. However, there have been few attempts to estimate the global mineral potential. Significant accumulations of metals from hydrothermal vents have been documented at some locations (e.g., 91.7 Mt of 2.06% Zn, 0.46% Cu, 58.5 g/t Co, 40.95 g/t Ag, and 0.51 g/t Au in the Atlantis II Deep of the Red Sea: Mustafa et al., 1984; Nawab, 1984; Guney et al., 1988). Even more metal is contained in deep-sea manganese nodules. Current estimates in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) mineral commodities summaries indicate a global resource of copper in deep-sea nodules of about 700 Mt. In the Pacific "high-grade" area, an estimated 34,000 Mt of nodules contain 7,500 Mt of Mn, 340 Mt of Ni, 265 Mt of Cu, and 78 Mt of Co (Morgan, 2000; Rona, 2003). A number of countries, including China, Japan, Korea, Russia, France, and Germany, are actively exploring this area.