North

Extraction to begin at N.W.T. rare earths project in April

Cheetah Resources, the company that owns the Nechalacho project, said a mining fleet will mobilize next week at its rare earths project.

Nechalacho is first of its kind to mobilize in Canada, says Cheetah Resources

The Nechalacho rare earth project at Thor Lake, 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife. (Submitted by Avalon Rare Metals Inc. )

Next week, Cheetah Resources will send a mining fleet out to its Nechalacho project, marking the first time a rare earth mine is being mobilized in Canada, said David Connelly, the company's vice president of corporate affairs. 

 A fleet of graders, haul trucks, bull dozers and a rock crusher will be sent out to the site, approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife, roughly equidistant from Lutselk'e.

Workers will begin to remove shrubs from the site, near Thor Lake, once they arrive, said Connelly. 

"The next stage after that is developing the pit or the quarry, from which the ore will be extracted. That will occur over the course of April through to the fall." 

What makes Nechalacho so attractive, Connelly said, is that there is a high concentration of rare earth elements that make magnets stronger, which can be used in electric vehicles, wind turbines, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and communication technologies.

"We use them in small amounts almost everywhere in our daily life."

It could also be the first time in Canada that a First Nation is running mining operations on their own traditional territory in the N.W.T.

Det'on Cho Nahanni Construction Corporation, owned by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, signed the agreement early last year. 

"I'm very confident that we're going to see a high level of Indigenous and local employees on this project for sure," said Paul Gruner, president and CEO of Det'on Cho Management LP. 

They're in the process of hiring now, he said. 

"The positions that we're hiring for, within Det'on Cho Nahanni, are going to be the direct operations, the mining and the extraction of the materials," he said.

A storage area has been built to receive mining supplies as the Nechalacho project's air strip. (Sarah Kakfwi/Cheetah Resources)

This is the first year of Nechalacho's three-year demonstration project, said Connelly.

"During this year, we will extract all the rock that is necessary to sort over the next three years."

That will be 100,000 metric tonnes of ore, he said.

"It makes more sense, when you're doing your mining campaign, to do it all at once rather than mobilize the fleet and then de-mobilize it three times."

Connelly said 50 people will extract and sort this year and that site rotations will allow 30 people to be on the site at a time. 

Next year, when sorting begins, there will be 20 people on site. The product will then be sent to a processing plant in Saskatchewan, said Connelly.

The project, eight kilometres from the shore of Great Slave Lake, is "unique" because the ore is near to the surface and there is access to infrastructure, such as barging to Hay River. 

Connelly also noted the deposit that will be mined, following the demonstration project, will last for multiple generations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liny Lamberink

Reporter/Editor

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She previously worked for CBC London as a reporter and newsreader. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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