South Africa, with its world leadership in the mining sector, and well-developed industrial sector, understandably has many tailings dams of various types. South Africa’s tailings dams are among the largest in the world in terms of delivered tailings tonnages, plan size and height. Obviously tailings disposal from the mining and industrial sectors in South Africa can have a major impact on the environment and the safety of human life if the dam design and tailings deposition process are not properly controlled. In South Africa there is a growing awareness of the importance of the environment and of the safety of the tailings dams. Catastrophes like the Merriespruit Gold Tailings dam failure in February 1994, where 17 people died and widespread devastation and environmental damage was caused, has sparked the renewal of research into tailings dam stability and safety. The rate of rise of tailings dams has an influence on the safety and stability of a tailings dam. If rate at which a tailings dam is built is too high, the dam may become unstable and be at risk of failure. There are many factors that control the rate of rise of tailings dams that are not very well understood. This research deals with sedimentation and desiccation of gold mine tailings. Sedimentation and desiccation are factors that influence the rate of rise. This research looked at how the gold mine tailings behave when sedimentation and desiccation occur. This was achieved through laboratory experiments, which consisted of column settling tests and drying box tests, and field tests. A model that predicts the behaviour of sedimentation and desiccation of tailings was also analysed. It was found that tailings sedimentation occurs very quickly. It was also found that suctions play an important role during the desiccation of the tailings.
Dissertation (MEng (Geotechnical Engineering))--University of Pretoria, 2007.