ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Decommissioning Tailings Dams

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Decommissioning tailings dams is a critical process that involves the removal of tailings, restoration of the surrounding environment, and the implementation of long-term safety measures.

The first step in decommissioning a tailings dam is the removal and relocation of the stored tailings. Often, these materials are removed to a third-party site and treated. After removal, reclamation begins, including the regrading of the dam area, soil stabilization, and re-vegetation. These measures help restore the natural topography, enhance soil quality, and promote the re-establishment of native vegetation, leaving the area in the most natural and sustainable state possible.

It is important to note that the removal of a tailings dam may result in the release of water contained within the dam. To prevent environmental impacts and to ensure that water discharged during the process meets local regulatory standards, appropriate treatment processes are employed. Erosion control measures should also be implemented, and water quality should be monitored downstream to ensure the quality of surrounding water bodies.

After the tailings have been removed, the dam’s physical structure, including dam walls, liners, and associated infrastructure, must be demolished. Proper waste management must be a priority in this process and precautionary efforts such as soil testing and treatment may be implemented to guarantee safety. However, even after decommissioning, ongoing monitoring is necessary to ensure the long-term stability of the site. Regular inspections often help detect any changes or issues that may arise over time, preventing larger potential crises.

Cooperation is key in the successful decommissioning of tailings dams; local communities, regulatory bodies, and environmental organizations must communicate transparently and plan efficiently to guarantee that the site is restored to a safe and environmentally sound condition.

Best Practices Resources

Tailings Management: Good Practice Guide, ICMM

Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, ICMM

Safety Guidelines and Good Practices for Tailings Management Facilities (ECE 1326665), UN

Safety of Dams: Policy and Procedures, USACE