Publications : Papers

Tailings Dam Seepage at the Rehabilitated Mary Kathleen Uranium Mine, Northwest Queensland, Australia
Published in: 2003
Author: B G Lottermoser, M T Costelloe and P M Ashley
Volume Title: Sixth International Conference on Acid Rock Drainage (ICARD)

The Mary Kathleen tailings storage facility (TSF) contains 7.1 Mt of uranium mill tailings. This waste repository was rehabilitated in the mid-1980s using a multibarrier dry cover. At the time of mine closure, it was predicted that acid mine drainage (AMD) generation would not eventuate and that uranium, heavy metals and radionuclides would be adsorbed within the tailings and not seep from the TSF into the environment. This study reports on the environmental status of the TSF. Gamma-ray measurements indicate an intact dry cover of the waste repository. However, seepage (~0.5 L s-1) of acid (pH 5.71), saline (0.31 per cent), high conductivity (8.8 mS cm-1), slightly oxygenated (DO 2.6 mg L-1), radioactive waters occurs from the toe of the tailings dam into the former evaporation ponds and local drainage system. Seepage waters are calcium-magnesium-sulfate rich with elevated Fe, Mn, Ni, U and Zn values. Oxygenation of tailings seepages causes the precipitation of Fe and coprecipitation and adsorption of other metals (Pb, U, Y), metalloids (As), rare earth elements (Ce, La) and radionuclides (U-235, U-238, Th-227).

In contrast, Ba, Ni, Sr, Mn, P, S, Ca, Mg, Na and K as well as Ra nuclides (Ra-226 and Ra-228) remain in solution until pH neutralisation and evaporation lead to their precipitation in efflorescences and sulfate-rich evaporative sediments further downstream. Dry capping of Mary Kathleen uranium mill tailings has resulted in physical containment of the wastes. The dry cover shows no signs of erosion and radiation levels are within acceptable limits. However, the flow rate of surface seepage from the TSF occurs at a much higher rate than predicted. Also, the neutralising potential and adsorption capacity of the tailings and underlying aquifer were overestimated at the time of mine closure. AMD has developed mobilising metals, metalloids, rare earth elements, alkalis, radionuclides and sulfate from the waste repository into surface water seepages.

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