The disposal of mine waste, chiefly tailings, has of late assumed an importance that transcends even the massive volumes of materials produced annually by mining operations. From an engineering standpoint, some tailings embankments class among the largest earth structures in the world. Aside from their significance in strictly engineering terms, tailings impoundments receive intense regulatory attention and public scrutiny. Because of the land areas they disturb and the varying toxicides of the mine wastes they retain, tailings impoundments are often the lightning rod for public opposition to mining projects.
Historically, tailings disposal began as the practice of dumping tailings into nearby streams and progressed to empirical design of impoundments by mine operators based on less than satisfactory principles of trial and error. Only within about the past 20 years have the principles of geotechnical engineering been applied to tailings embankments, ordinarily in the context of design practices for water-retention dams. Now, however, planning and design of tailings impoundments has become a multidisciplinary enterprise, one that requires a broader background in many diverse fields extending beyond the traditional application of geotechnical knowledge. This book is intended to provide a bridge between the various technical disciplines involved in tailings disposal and to illustrate the application of these fields to tailings disposal planning and design. In addition, the intent is to provide the reader with access to key sources of literature applying to tailings that heretofore have been scattered among various conferences, symposia, and journals in a wide range of technical fields.
The intended audience for the book falls into three main categories: geotechnical engineers, mining and metallurgical engineers, and regulatory personnel. Knowledge of soil mechanics fundamentals and basic earth dam design principles are assumed on the part of the reader and are well covered in other soil mechanics texts. For the geotechnical engineer, the message is that basic earth dam design criteria and concepts alone are not sufficient for tailings embankment design. To the extent that a dam cannot be designed without a thorough understanding of the materials it retains, geotechnical engineers will find themselves introduced to the metallurgical processes by which tailings are generated, the chemical nature of tailings, and the unique engineering behavior of tailings of various types. .....................................