Seismic Assessment of Tailings Dams

by Thomas G. Harper, Vice Pres. & Mgr.; Klohn Leonoff, Inc., Kirkland, WA,
Harvey N. McLeod, Manager, Mining Services Div.; Klohn Leonoff Inc., Kirkland, WA,
Michael P. Davies, Geotechnical Engr.; Klohn Leonoff, Inc., Kirkland, WA,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1992, Vol. 62, Issue 12, Pg. 64-66

Document Type: Feature article


A significant portion of the operating and closed large dams in North America are tailings dams used to impound wastes from mining operations. Often these dams were built by mine personnel and may not have been subjected to the rigorous quality control measures required for conventional water storage dams. Construction methods and materials vary considerably. Tailings dams' stability in earthquakes has become a matter of increasing concern as seismic knowledge has advanced. In Chile, for example, failure of the new and old El Cobre tailings dams following the La Ligua earthquake in March 1965 killed 200 people. Growing awareness of seismicity and the potential liability associated with tailings dams are raising the requirements for assessing the stability of both closed and operating structures. Here is a methodology for assessing the seismic stability of these structures and deciding how to upgrade them.

Subject Headings: Seismic tests | Seismic effects | Mine wastes | Dams

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