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New CRP: Development and Application of Isotope Techniques for Efficient Water Resources Management in Mining Areas (CRP F33026)

New Coordinated Research Project
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View of open pit mine water at the abandoned Mt. Morgan copper and gold mine site, Queensland Australia (Photo: Mansour Edraki, The University of Queensland, Australia).

Liquid and solid tailings are a common by-product of mining operations consisting of the slurry and other particles left behind during the ore separation process.  Tailings can often pose a threat to aquatic ecosystems via contaminant discharges, such as acid drainage, and toxic metals, or through tailings impoundment failures, which can result in a range of negative environmental, social and economic consequences. Most mines require large and secure water supplies for their operations sourced from nearby groundwater, rivers, streams and lakes, or from commercial water service suppliers, creating added strain on local water resources.

Inhabitants in the vicinity of mining operations are often concerned about the availability of ground and surface water for local use, security of water access, and the potential for water supply contamination. In many countries, water is highly regulated, and permits specify the amounts of water that may be used or discharged in mining operations. Governments play a key role in restricting consumptive water use in various mining operations. Nevertheless, the use of limited potable water supplies for mining operations can lead to tensions and conflicts. Therefore, accurately quantifying the water budget of mining operations is crucial to mitigate, prevent, and improve best management practices for water and tailings management. Stable isotopes and radioisotopes of water and chemicals in and around mine operations are used to help fingerprint and trace water origin, age, flow, and the complex hydrological phenomena that relate to water availability and impact on water quality.

The IAEA is launching 4-year Coordinated Research Project (CRP) to improve capability and expertise among Member States to use environmental isotope techniques to assess hydrological processes and impacts to guide and inform optimal water resources management around mining operations. Three types of mines will be covered in the CRP; new mines (in the planning stage), active (working) mines, and historical (not currently active) mines.

CRP Objective

The objective of the CRP is to test and develop capabilities and nuclear methodologies based on the use of isotope hydrology tools for efficient water resources assessment and management in the mining areas in Member States.

Specific Research Aims

  1. To identify and characterize sources and dynamics of utilized ground and surface water in mining areas at local/regional scales using environmental isotopes complemented with conventional techniques;
  2. To assess mine water discharge as a vector for contaminant transport, with special emphasis on acid mine drainage in the vicinity of mining areas;
  3. To assess water resource availability to ensure all stakeholders are not negatively impacted by mining operations; and
  4. To develop best practice guidelines on integrating environmental isotopes and other indicators into assessment of hydrological processes for efficient water resources management in mining areas.

How to join the CRP:

Please submit a Proposal for Research Contract or Agreement by email no later than March 13, 2021, to the IAEA’s Research Contracts Administration Section, using the appropriate template on the CRA web portal. Note that the same template can be used for both research contract and technical contract.

For further information related to this CRP, potential applicants should use the contact form under the CRP page.

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