North

Fortune Minerals mulls use of cyanide at proposed N.W.T. NICO mine

Gold cyanidization is controversial, but it's also extremely common. Many companies — including Agnico Eagle at Meadowbank Mine — use it.

Although highly toxic, cyanide is very common in the gold mining industry

Rendering of the proposed NICO pit, mill and camp site. (submitted by Troy Nazarewicz )

As construction for the Tlicho all-season road nears its start, the company hoping to open a mine in the area has laid out a few possibilities for how that mine will run.

Fortune Minerals is planning to construct the NICO Mine, which will produce cobalt, gold, bismuth and copper. The company recently announced it's entered into confidentiality agreements with more than 45 companies that are interested in participating in the development of NICO.

What these companies want to invest — and what exactly they want from the mine — will determine its future.

"Because of the different nature of those parties, some are looking for different products," said Troy Nazarewicz, investor relations manager with Fortune.

A car company, for instance, would be interested in a fully processed cobalt product for use in the electric vehicle industry.

"At the other end of the spectrum would be a large mining or refining party that has their own facilities and would be interested in a concentrate."

Fortune has broken those options down into four scenarios, two of which include using a Fortune-owned refinery in the south.

"If construction of the downstream refinery in southern Canada is deferred, gold would need to be recovered from the cobalt and bismuth concentrates at the mine site," states a news release from the company.

This would include the use of cyanide at the NICO mine site.

Fortune already has a land and water licence to operate NICO Mine, but the use of cyanide would require a "small amendment" to the company's water licence, according to Rick Schryer, VP of regulatory and environmental affairs with Fortune.

He said the company plans to submit an application for that amendment in the coming months.

Cyanide in gold mining

Gold cyanidation to leach gold from ore is relatively controversial, because cyanide is lethal if inhaled or ingested in high enough amounts.

But it's also extremely common. Many companies — including Agnico Eagle at Meadowbank Mine — use it.

The United Nations helped develop the International Cyanide Management Code for safe use of cyanide in the gold mining industry, and 279 industrial operations across the world are certified under it. Certified members use a third party to audit adherence to the code.

Schryer said Fortune is still working under a financial model that includes processing at a southern refinery, but if the company were to use cyanide at the site, it would follow the code as well.

Geopolitical factors

NICO Mine has the potential to help stabilize the world's supply of cobalt and bismuth, according to Nazarewicz.

"The world right now is on the cusp of transformation in the automotive industry, where all the global players are basically transitioning from the internal combustion engine to electric drive trains," he said.

"Cobalt [plays] a key role in lithium ion batteries and is obviously essential for this transition."

Right now, he said, about 70 per cent of the world's cobalt mine production is in the Democratic Republic of Congo and most of its refining capacity is in China.

The world right now is on the cusp of transformation in the automotive industy.- Troy Nazarewicz, Fortune Minerals

"You've got two locations where you've got potentially less secure supply," said Nazarewicz.

"Having NICO situated in Canada, both the mine and potentially refinery in Canada helps diversify the supply chain for the automotive and battery industries."

Similarly bismuth, which is used in several industries, including automotive, construction and pharmaceutical, is largely produced in China.

The bismuth reserve at the NICO mine site constitutes about 12 per cent of total known global reserves.

Nazarewicz says Fortune Minerals is working on an updated technical report on NICO Mine which the company will use to make a financial case for the mine.

"If we are successful as far as bringing in a partner and financing, then we'd have a very definitive timeline," he said.

"It's a two- to three-year construction period from that point."

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