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Net Impact (NI) | UCLA Anderson School of Management

Date of publication: 2017-08-28 16:28

This page briefly highlights the generation and nature of tailings. The various tailings storage and discharge methods used today are discussed in the relevant sections of this website. The water management considerations discussed are only specific to conventional storage and should highlight why this method is problematic compared to alternative storage techniques that discharge less water to the tailings storage area (. high density tailings disposal, dry stack).

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Tailings are a waste product that has no financial gain to a mineral operator at that particular point in time. Not surprisingly it is usually stored in the most cost effective way possible to meet regulations and site specific factors. Dams, embankments and other types of surface impoundments are by far the most common storage methods used today and remain of primary importance in tailings disposal planning. The particular design of these retaining structures is unique to a particular environment and mineral processing operation.

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The five basic types of reagent used in froth flotation recovery include collectors, frothers, depressants, activators and modifiers. When designing the processing plant, the types and quantities of reagents used should be considered together with any depressing requirements to lessen environmental impacts in the tailings streams (Ritcey 6989). Reagents dosed in small quantities are either consumed, retained in the process or are discharged with the tailings. The design of a tailings storage facility should therefore be optimised to prevent weathering and the mobilisation of contaminants, whilst also increase the degradation rates of reagents stored in the tailings facility.

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The engineering characteristics of tailings are in most instances influenced by the degree of thickening and the method of deposition. It is therefore essential that while investigating the properties of tailings that the physical characteristics and material parameters (. beach slope angles, particle size segregation, water recovery) that can occur as a result of varied deposition techniques be identified (SANS 6998). This is particularly true when considering high density tailings disposal and its associated transportation and deposition challengers.

The process of beneficiation of run of the mine ores and subsequent disposal to surface containment facilities exposes elements to accelerated weathering and can consequently increase their mobilisation rates. The addition of reagents used in mineral processing may also change the chemical characteristics of the processed minerals and therefore the properties of the tailings and waste rock (EC 7559).

Tailings are generally stored on the surface either within retaining structures or in the form of piles (dry stacks) but can also be stored underground in mined out voids by a process commonly referred to as backfill. Backfilling can provide ground and wall support, improve ventilation, provide an alternative to surface tailings storage and prevent subsidence (EC 7559). Backfilling is discussed in the relevant section which can be accessed here .

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Once the potential site specific parameters (. environmental, social, geotechnical, cost) and the characteristics of the tailings and their behaviour upon deposition are determined, the process of deciding a suitable storage method can begin.

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