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A Rapid and Cost-Effective Method for Bench Screening of Geochemical Performance and Disposal Options for High-SulfideTailings

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  • The underground Neves Corvo copper-tin mine in southern Portugal currently disposes of its tailings in a ‘traditional’ wet tailings impoundment. With the development of new technologies for preparation and transport of thickened tailings or paste, alternative tailings disposal options have become available that provide a more sustainable water management system and a higher degree of environmental protection. In addition, growing European resistance towards subaqueous disposal may well result in mandatory use of dry disposal methods in the near future. Twenty-four tailings disposal alternatives were evaluated through a cost-effective and easily-implementable bench-scale geochemical screening program conducted at site. Since the tailings are pyrite-rich and highly acid generating, particular emphasis was placed on monitoring likely indicators of sulfide oxidation under the various simulated disposal scenarios. Dependent parameters investigated as part of the program included moisture content, use of alkaline additives (lime, cement), use of a bactericide, and agitation. Response parameters included paste pH, specific conductance, and temperature as indicators of oxidation. The testing was carried out for 30 weeks. Results indicate that a number of relationships between the geochemical stability of the samples (ie sulfide oxidation) and sample characteristics can be readily identified. Based on the results of the screening program, a limited number of tailings mixtures have been selected for further long-term testing in field weathering cells to aid in the identification of the optimal mix design for future tailings disposal at the Neves Corvo Mine. This type of testing provides an inexpensive and reliable methodology for semi-quantitative comparison between tailings disposal alternatives, in particular at locations where more rigorous evaluation through long-term, fully replicated testing is not immediately feasible.

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