KETCHIKAN - A company is spending $4 million this year on an exploration program at Bokan Mountain, the Prince of Wales Island site where Alaska's only producing uranium mine was in operation from 1957 to 1971.
Cliff Hanson, general manager for Landmark Alaska, said there is potential for permitting and construction to occur between 2011 and 2013 for a mine to target uranium and rare earth metals at the site above Kendrick Bay, about 40 miles from Ketchikan.
The Bokan Mountain mine could provide up to 1,000 direct jobs, he said.
"When you establish a mine like this, it becomes a part of your community," Hanson said.
The Landmark Alaska Limited Partnership is the U.S. subsidiary of Ucore Uranium Inc., a publicly traded Canadian junior exploration company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
According to Canadian government information, junior exploration companies typically are smaller firms that focus on finding mineral deposits that could be developed into working mines.
Ucore is involved in seven exploration projects at present, mostly in Canada.
"The flagship property of Ucore Uranium is Bokan Mountain," Hanson said.
Discovered in 1955 by Jan Ross, Don Ross and Kelly Adams, Bokan Mountain produced about 1.3 million pounds of uranium during three mining periods beginning in 1957 and ending in 1970-71, according to Ucore information. The uranium was purchased under contract by the U.S. government, Hanson said.
Interest in uranium waned after power generation accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in Russia, Hanson said.
Renewed interest in nuclear generated power and expanding use of "rare earth elements" in products such as the Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle and laptop computers has boosted prices for minerals.
The U.S. Geologic Survey has estimated there could be 11 million more pounds of uranium at Bokan Mountain, Hanson said. Ucore lists yttrium oxide and zirconium oxide as being present at the site, besides the rare earth elements.
"And Bokan Mountain has turned to out to be one of North America's largest rare earth element deposits," Hanson said. "So we're very pleased to be involved with this."
Ucore/Landmark has been involved with the area for about two years, working at first to sign agreements with existing claim holders.
"We now hold over, almost 500 claims covering most of the area," Hanson said.
All of the claims are on Tongass National Forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Landmark Alaska spent about $2.5 million on its exploration program in 2007, said Hanson. The company will spend about $4 million in 2008, most of it in Alaska.
"Going through this year's budget, I'm proud to say 90 percent of our $4 million was directed to Alaska-based firms," he said.
About 30 percent was paid to Ketchikan-based firms, he said.
It's Hanson's opinion and "hope" that Landmark would be able to complete its exploration and resource definition in 2009 and 2010.
"By that time we should know how many pounds of each mineral we have in the ground, and we'll be able to start going on to the next phase in the next two years of what's called 'mine pre-feasibility,"' Hanson said, where mine officials determine what it would take to process ore to its usable elements.
"Finally, I figure, between 2011 and 2013: The mine permitting and mine construction," he said.
According to information from the Alaska Miners Association, job counts at major mining operations in the state during 2007 included 465 jobs at Red Dog Mine, 380 jobs at Fort Knox Mine; 280 jobs at Greens Creek Mine and 190 jobs at Pogo Mine.
The proposed Kensington gold mine near Juneau has an expected job count of 200 jobs, according to AMA, while the proposed Pebble Project has "1,000 potential production jobs."
Information from: Ketchikan Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com