2009 – Geotechnical characterisation of tailings and failure mode analysis for tailings dam cover design

Robert Kingsland, Glen Burton

The management and closure of tailings dams can present mines with a trailing liability potentially extending well beyond the life of the mine. The dilemma faced by mine operators is that a tailings storage facility (TSF) is usually required to be in service up until the last product is mined and processed, but the stored tailings may be too weak to support the capping of those facilities for some years after the last tailings deposition. This paper presents the authors’ experience in the geotechnical characterisation of tailings and failure mode analysis required for tailings dams cover design, with particular reference to coal mines in the Hunter Valley. Techniques for field and laboratory determination of strength and consolidation parameters are presented. Failure modes for capping cover and displacement cover alternatives are discussed. Alternative cover techniques including strategies for improving and/or accelerating tailings strength gain are also discussed. Finally, areas needing further study are noted.

Keywords: tailings storage facilities, tailings dams, closure, capping, cover design.

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