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Management of uranium tailings

Dave Luppnow
Thursday, May 30, 2013
First presented: 
The 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 ofm 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.

Feature Author

Dave Luppnow

David Luppnow has over 20 years’ experience in site investigations, site selection, design, construction, reclamation and project management of engineered structures for mine waste disposal, including tailings dams, heap leach pads and mine waste rocks dumps.  He has managed multi-disciplinary studies for a broad range of tailings projects related to more than 20 tailings dams, including upstream, centreline and downstream raised impoundments.  He has specific large copper tailings project experience in the South Africa, USA, Papua New Guinea, Argentina and Chile, and specific leach pad experience in Mongolia, West Africa, USA and Chile for commodities ranging across copper, gold and, most recently, uranium.

Principal Consultant (Mine Waste)
BSc (Civil Engineering), PE (Washington
SRK Perth
SRK United Kingdom