Tailings and Mine Waste Conference

Sand tailings dams : design, construction and operation Barrera, Sergio; Valenzuela, Luis; Campaña, Jose


The design of sand tailings dams for tailings impoundments in highly seismic regions has been subjected to a long development process with continuous improvement mainly because of the general concern originated by several earthquake induced failures. Two important hydraulic sand fills and sand tailings dam failures in the 1960’s (San Fernando dam in California and El Cobre tailings dam in Chile) are the most well-known. The development process continued until it achieved the present situation where recent designs show a reasonably high degree of safety and reliability and also relatively cost effective construction and operational control methods. As a consequence of the knowledge and experience gained mainly over the last 30 years, it has been possible not only to design but also to construct and to operate sand tailings dams of more than 200 m in height and with rates of production and placement of tailings sand as high as 45,000 tons per day. This achievement is the result of continuous knowledge gained regarding geotechnical behaviour of tailings sands under high confining pressures; hydraulic transport and pumping of sandy slurries; new numerical methods of dynamic stability analysis and the improvement of reliable sand disposal and compaction methods. This paper provides a summary of the evolution that occurred over the last 30 years in the design of tailings impoundments with sand dams. It also describes the fundamental design concepts, the knowledge gained in the behavior of tailings sands under high confining pressures and dynamic loads. The paper finally identifies areas where it is possible to further improve designs, operation and closure. A large part of the experience and examples presented are related to actual tailings dams located in Chile, where several high and large dams exist or are planned to be built shortly. [All papers were considered for technical and language appropriateness by the organizing committee.]

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