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Management of Uranium Tailings

Dave Luppnow
Thursday, May 30, 2013
First presented: 
Published in AusIMM Bulletin, June 2013
Published paper
Mine Waste

Uranium tailings are differentiated from other types of tailings due to the radioactive nature of the material.
Radioactive tailings facilities pose long term hazards relating to both exposure and dam failure, with the
principal concern being the potential harm to both operator and public health.
Primary pathways in which exposure can occur include:

  • ingestion of dust
  • inhalation of radon gas
  • acid rock drainage and metal leaching
  • seepage impact / contamination of surface and ground water sources.

Generally, the causes of dam failure at uranium facilities are no different from those at other mill tailings
dams. However, the consequences of failure may be more significant than non-hazardous facilities,
depending on the radioactivity of the material and the sensitivity of the receiving environment.
The long half-lives of the radioactive constituents require effective facilities to be designed for a minimum of
200- 1000 years or longer, and closure design is a far more important consideration. Therefore, radioactive
storage facilities are subject to stricter design and operating standards than non-hazardous facilities and
are equipped with more extensive controls, especially regarding seepage and dispersion of dust.


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