PDAC-Alpha Minerals looks to strike it rich in Athabasca, again
* Shares soaring on drill results since November * Gains are in sharp contrast to most of industry * Uranium prices depressed since Japanese disaster * Alpha led by part of Hathor Exploration team By Rod Nickel TORONTO, March 4 (Reuters) - The last uranium company Ben Ainsworth worked for, Hathor Exploration, became the target of a bidding war that mining giant Rio Tinto PLC eventually won, and the geologist-turned mining executive thinks he may have struck it rich again. Ainsworth is now chief executive of Alpha Minerals Inc , a junior miner that has a closely watched joint venture project with Fission Energy Corp in Western Canada's uranium-rich Athabasca basin. The companies are in the early stages of exploring their deposit at Patterson Lake South, but drill hole results in November and again in February sent Alpha's stock on a tear. Shares of the Vancouver-based company have multiplied in value eight times since Nov. 5. It has also raised C$9 million ($8.7 million) in private placements and exercised stock warrants, funding it into early 2014. Alpha's gains stand in sharp contrast to declines among many uranium stocks, such as Cameco Corp, the world's largest listed uranium producer, due to soft prices following Japan's Fukushima disaster two years ago. Despite those conditions, and pressures on the global mining sector in general, investors can still get excited about uranium given a compelling reason, Ainsworth said. Alpha was known as ESO Uranium Corp until Nov. 2, when it consolidated shares in the renamed company, Alpha. The tight share structure also contributed to the price spike. "There definitely was a great response," Ainsworth said. "It's really helpful to have some momentum going forward after you've completed the (share) rollback and come back trading." Results at five drill holes of relatively shallow depth, suggested to some that Alpha's flagship project Patterson Lake South could become Athabasca's next high-grade uranium deposit. The work is so preliminary, however, that Alpha and Fission do not yet have a legally defined resource. "The grades and the thicknesses become very significant, especially when you put it at fairly shallow depth," Ainsworth said, adding that means less digging for a potential open pit mine. The results showed an attractive deposit at Patterson as shallow as 50 metres below the surface. Hathor's Roughrider deposit is five times as deep. Alpha and Fission were initially partners on exploring a property further north when their geophysics contractor suggested the deposit may be bigger than they thought. "We started to find the information for the south (property) looking a heck of a lot more interesting," Ainsworth said. Ainsworth, a geologist and engineer, was vice-president of exploration at Hathor Exploration, which developed the Roughrider uranium deposit in the basin before selling the company last year to Rio Tinto, who outbid Cameco. He later brought along Michael Gunning, Hathor's former CEO, as Alpha's chairman. "That certainly added to our ability to run up the old Hathor flag and say, 'look, we've got parts of the Hathor team here and we may be able to do something like that.'" Fission, which is being acquired by Denison Mines Corp pending a shareholder vote, is preparing for Patterson Lake South a 43-101, an instrument to publicly disclose information about Canadian mineral properties. The takeover does not include Fission's half interest in Patterson Lake South, which will be owned by a newly formed company. A producing mine at Patterson could be less than a decade away, Ainsworth said, subject to a preliminary economic assessment, feasibility studies and permit approvals. "Fortunately we are in one of the best parts of the world politically, and geologically it's a super part of the world. "This is where the highest-grade mines in the world are." The world's biggest mining convention, held by the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada, takes place this week in Toronto.