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2010 - Hungary - Aluminum processing - 600,000-700,000 m3
2013 - Obed Mountain - Coal slurry - 670,000 m3 + 90,000 tonnes muddy sediment
2014 - Mt. Polley, British Columbia - gold/copper processing - 4.5MM m3 fines + 10MM m3 water
WISE (World Information Service of Energy - Uranium Project) has a compilation of major tailings dam failures since 1960 (HERE). Invariably, the cause to these events are the function of operation practices that went beyond permitted limits, and monitoring of the facility was not enforced. Many stories cite that tougher regulation or greater oversight is necessary. As I have noted elsewhere (HERE), I do not believe it is the oversight that is required. It is quite simply honesty and integrity to follow the rules that are in place to serve public health and safety, and property and environmental protection. That means the proponents, the regulators, and the general public. The mechanisms are all in place for these processes to properly vet a project and ensure that it is technically sound and operationally functional for its intended purpose. Repeatedly, alternations are made, amendments are requested and follow through is not representative of the relative risk
In the case of Mt Polley there are many details that are emerging relative to any variety of failures in the process. And it is my perspective that each one of these failures can be isolated to a breach on honesty and integrity within the process. The proponents want to optimize their operations. The regulators are overwhelmed. The public has a challenge in understanding the real risks. Who sites a tailings pond in the manner this site was located? Who allows for operations to continue months and years after warnings and seemingly almost ad hoc practices are engaged to 'accommodate' the unanticipated volumes of waste and wastewater that the operations were generating? Who and how, and when was it confirmed that the operations were not able to operate within their permitted limits and seemingly allowed the proponent to continue with what appear to be 'bandaid' mitigation to the much larger problem?
These projects need to be challenged by all levels of scrutiny in the process. From the original design and calculations, their basic assumptions and all the 'thinking' that went into the decision to proceed, to the monitoring data and analysis of the 'performance' in accordance with design specs and regulator terms and conditions. People. Individual people are all involved in this process. While certainly there will always be some probability of an unanticipated accident, these events noted appear to be completely preventable.