2015 – Anomalies in design for mining dams

Jiri Herza and John Phillips

The design of dams for mining projects requires processes and technology that are unfamiliar to many mine owners and managers. Dam designers rely on ANCOLD assessments of Consequence Category, commonly leading to a High rating for mining dams due to a combination of potential loss of life, impact on environment and damage to assets such as mine voids, process plants, workshops, offices, roads, railways etc.
From this High Consequence Category the relevant annual exceedance probabilities for design parameters and loading conditions such as earthquakes and floods are selected.
Mining companies have sophisticated methods available for assessing risk, yet for their assets they often adopt an order of magnitude lower security for earthquake and floods even though the consequences in terms of lives at risk and impact on project are similar.
The discrepancies in the design standards lead to situations where extreme dam loads are adopted to prevent damage and loss of life in assets that theoretically would have already collapsed under much lower loads.
One difference may be that some mining dams exist in an environment which is controlled by a single entity. Unlike other dams, failure of these mining dams would therefore impact only individuals and assets which fall under the responsibility of the same entity.
This paper discusses the discrepancies between the design of mining dams and the design of other mine infrastructure. The paper considers the impact of discrepancies on the overall risk to the mine and compares the degree of protection offered by a factor of safety and the influence of reliability of design input parameters, alternate load paths and design redundancy.
Keywords: Dams, tailings dams, mining, acceptable risk, factors of safety

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