Geotechnics of Mine Tailings: A 2022 State of the Art

Prof. Andy Fourie

Global interest in the geotechnical stability of tailings storage facilities (TSFs) has burgeoned over the past decade. In particular, the widely accessible video of the catastrophic failure of the Feijão TSF in Brazil in 2019 was a definite hinge point. Enormous efforts are now focussed on the assessment and improvement of existing facilities as well as the design of new ones. A focus of this paper has been on problems associated with contractive and brittle tailings, how to determine liquefaction susceptibility, and whether currently available monitoring technologies are able to provide meaningful and timely information on a potential, developing failure. We also believe there are other, important aspects of tailings behaviour that must be understood, and thus the paper also deals with the consolidation, desiccation and creep behaviour of highly compressible tailings, the importance of correctly accounting for seepage, and the analysis and design for seismic loading conditions. Although new management technologies such as filtered tailings are seeing increasing use, we contend that comprehensive understanding of tailings geotechnics remains paramount to ensuring the stability of all tailings facilities.

About the speaker

Prof. Andy Fourie Faculty of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, UWA

Andy is a Professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at UWA.

He has Bachelor and Master degrees from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and a PhD from Imperial College, University of London. After a period in consulting practice with SRK in Johannesburg, he began an academic career at the University of Queensland. His research is in mitigating the impact of mining and municipal solid waste disposal. Andy has published over 200 articles, including more than 80 in international journals. He has recently been appointed to the ICMM (International Council on Mining and Metals) ‘expert review panel’ for the ICMM Global review of tailings storage facility standards and critical controls.

He has contributed to a new series of guidelines for managing mine tailings in Australia, as well as developing a document for the International Atomic Energy Association on barrier systems for retaining uranium mining waste.

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