The majority of surface tailings storage facilities continue to employ sub-aerial tailings slurry deposition. Surface TSFs are typically sized and operated in a way to minimise the initial capital cost of the facility, driven largely by the net present value approach to accounting. This generally leads to too small a storage, too fast a rate of rise of the tailings, and difficulties in managing supernatant water. In turn, this results in wet and soft tailings deposits of high moisture content and low density, and the need for frequent and costly tailings dam raises. Further, such tailings deposits often do not facilitate closure and rehabilitation of the facility. Globally, there are on average over two failures annually of such tailings dams, resulting in loss of life, damage to infrastructure and environmental impact downstream, and the loss of company shareholder value and reputation. Recent high profile tailings dam failures are threatening the mining industry’s financial and social licence to operate.
Among the physical processes that tailings undergo on sub-aerial deposition are beaching, hydraulic sorting down the beach according to particle size and specific gravity, settling, consolidation, and desiccation on exposure to the sun and wind. Beaching and hydraulic sorting have proved difficult to test at laboratory scale and difficult to model, and are best assessed in the field. Settling, consolidation and desiccation may be assessed at laboratory scale, but to date there has been an absence of tests to form the basis for the design and management of tailings deposition, and ultimate closure and rehabilitation. The paper describes recent advances in tailings testing methods, including a purpose-built slurry consolidometer that tests the settling and consolidation of tailings from a slurry consistency, simulating increasing tailings depth to about 50 m; and a purpose-built instrumented column that tests the settling, self-weight consolidation and desiccation of a surface layer of tailings, also from a slurry consistency. Selected test results from these two apparatus are presented in the paper, together with brief descriptions of how they may be used to better design tailings slurry deposition. In addition, planned further advances in tailings testing methods are briefly described.
Williams, D J, 2018. Recent advances in tailings testing methods, in Proceedings Mine Waste and Tailings Stewardship Conference 2018, pp 8–37 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).