Q&A with Fission President & CEO, Ross McElroy

For newcomers to the Fission story, here is Q&A interview that CEO, Ross McElroy, recently conducted with the 121 Group, which runs a series of mining investment events.

Can you please provide an introduction to Fission Uranium and its flagship project?

Fission Uranium is an award-winning uranium company and the owner/developer of the PLS project in northern Saskatchewan, Canada. PLS is a proposed high-grade, near surface uranium mine and mill located on the southwestern edge of the renowned Athabasca Basin uranium district.

The property hosts the largest mineralized trend in the region and is one of the few uranium projects advanced enough to enter production this cycle. The project has excellent access to infrastructure and a skilled workforce and, importantly, the 2023 feasibility study shows the potential for the PLS to be one of the lowest operational cost uranium mines in the world.

You recently submitted your permit application to build a uranium mine and mill, and announced engineering design progress at PLS, how is your timeline to production looking now?

Fission Uranium continues to advance on schedule, towards production before the end of the decade. We commenced the environmental assessment last year and we are currently working our way through the permitting and front end engineering design phases. Since transitioning from an explorer to developer in 2020, we have consistently hit our planned milestones on time and on budget, and we are committed to maintaining this track record.

What sort of relationship has Fission Uranium built with local rights holders?

Fission Uranium has developed strong relationships with all local rights holders and stakeholders thanks to consistent, transparent communication, and a robust approach to environmental stewardship that began with our very first drill hole over a decade ago. The agreements signed and announced last year with all of the key indigenous groups in our area speaks to the success of our approach.

We believe in, and are completely committed to, responsible, collaborative development. This means we actively seek out and encourage local community involvement. Currently, local knowledge experts are involved with ongoing environmental monitoring at the PLS project. We also employ local contractors and individuals in a variety of roles, as well as provide direct funding for locally run educational and social initiatives. As the project grows, so too will local community involvement and benefits.

Uranium prices have risen considerably over the last two years as nuclear energy grows in line with the global transition to clean energy. Is this enough to incentivize the new production needed  for the coming demand growth?

The short answer is that prices will need to rise higher to incentivize the amount of new production required for the demand pipeline. While Fission Uranium’s PLS project has the economic potential to be profitable at current and indeed lower price levels, we are in an elite category with only a few other projects. In order for most uranium projects to move forward to production, consensus is pointing towards somewhere in the $90/lb range. I’ve seen much higher figures thrown around, which are perhaps a little aggressive, but the $90 range is commonly used, which means there’s a lot more upside for high quality uranium deals.

Why are there so few advanced uranium projects globally?

We’ve only just exited a decade of low prices, which decimated the uranium sector from early stage explorers all the way up to producers. Projects were mothballed and eventually even operating mines were shut down. In that environment, only a very select few projects were able to advance. Essentially, if you didn’t have the elite economic potential of companies such as Fission Uranium, NexGen, and Denison Mines, you really couldn’t raise the money or find the top technical talent required to move forward successfully.   

It's true that prices have risen in the last few years, but uranium is not easy to find and develop. Even if you have a project with potential, you need a highly skilled and experienced team in terms of technical capabilities, and also the ability to raise money for your project. Most companies just couldn’t tick all of those boxes.

How has geopolitics changed nuclear energy and the uranium sector?

Geopolitics has changed nuclear energy and uranium to a degree that most people have yet to fully appreciate. The Ukraine war has shown that countries that rely on externally sourced fossil fuels for a large percentage of their energy mix have a massive gap in their national security.

I’m not saying those countries didn’t know they were vulnerable, but it’s clear they never thought Russia would start a major war and would quickly exploit its fossil fuel leverage. By cutting off gas supplies to European utilities, Russia basically shone a spotlight on the merits of nuclear energy. Yes, renewables such as solar and wind were also major beneficiaries, however, as the West and China are only now starting to truly understand, national power grids are designed for baseload energy – energy available 24/7. That means mass deployment of renewables is pointless because you can’t connect all of those installations to the grid without massive, expensive grid upgrades. Did you know, for example, that some of the recent renewable projects in the West have been told they will have to wait fifteen years for grid connection?

With nuclear, you have the only clean, commercial baseload energy in existence, and it’s fueled by uranium. Now, the world’s biggest producer of uranium is Kazakhstan, which borders Russia and is within its sphere of influence. However, Canada and Australia are also major uranium producers, and really these two countries are at the top of the list when it comes to stable, reliable, pro-investment mining jurisdictions.

To finish, Fission has a strong leadership team, can you give us an overview of the kind of expertise leading PLS to production?

Fission Uranium has one of the most skilled leadership teams in the uranium sector, with experience encompassing all aspects of development and production. I lead the team as President and CEO and have spent most of my 35 years in uranium, serving as a geologist, technical team leader, and senior executive. My experience ranges from grass roots exploration all the way to production, and I’ve led my team to success with the Waterbury Lake discovery and of course the discovery at PLS.

Our VP of project development, Gary Haywood, is an outstanding mine engineer with over 35 years of experience and a track record of key roles including general manager of Cameco’s McArthur River mine.

We also have experts in permitting, indigenous relations and the environment, including Jeff Pryznyk – an environment, health and safety professional with two decades of experience working in Saskatchewan, much of which was gained working in uranium mining.