Vale mining company’s program to eliminate all its dams built by the upstream raising method foresees the conclusion of the process by 2035. A few months ago, the company signed an agreement with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Minas Gerais state, agreeing to pay compensation of BRL 236 million for not meeting the deadlines set in 2019 by the law known as the Law Mar de Lama Nunca Mais (Mud Sea Never Again) for the decommissioning of all the company’s dams built by this method. Such decommissioning consists of emptying areas that store tailings, disabling dams, and reincorporating the structure into the landscape and the environment.
The current schedule, presented to Agência Brasil this week, indicates that 40 percent of the structures shall be eliminated this year, but in some cases, the processes will take longer. The previous deadline was three years and it will expire in August of this year.
The upstream elevation method was used in the Vale dam that ruptured in Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais in January 2019, causing 270 deaths and environmental devastation. Years earlier, in 2015, another similar disaster had already occurred in the municipality of Mariana, also in Minas. Nineteen people died and dozens of municipalities in the states of Minas and Espírito Santo along the Doce River basin were affected by the mud, which flowed out after the rupture of a dam built with the same technology by Samarco mining company, which has Vale itself and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton as shareholders.
In all, the decommissioning program, created in 2019 after the Brumadinho tragedy, encompasses 30 structures, of which nine have already been eliminated: six are located in Minas Gerais and three in Pará state. The remaining 21 are all in cities in Minas as well, and in three of them, the process should be completed this year. Vale claims that each structure is unique and has peculiarities that must be taken into account. Therefore, in some cases, the process requires more time. In the case of dams that are at a critical level, there is an additional challenge: working with unmanned equipment, in order to remove workers from the risk area.
According to Frank Pereira, executive manager of Vale’s Decommissioning Program, a great effort of technological development has been made. “It’s something that happened in the past with the power generation dams. Brazil has become a reference in the world. You can be sure that, after Brumadinho, we will also be a reference in mining dams. This will happen because of the scrutiny, the engineering judgment, and the criticality that we have regarding the theme. Not only Vale, but the mining industry as a whole,” he said.
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