24 April 2020

The Luming Mine tailings spill: so what happened next?

Posted by Dave Petley

The Luming Mine tailings spill: so what happened next?

A month ago I posted on a number of occasions about the major release of tailings from the storage facility at Luming Mine in China on 28 March 2020.  Using high-resolution satellite imagery provided by Planet Labs we pieced together the sequence of events, which involved the failure of a decant tower in the middle part of the tailings pond. This subsequently proved to be correct – Adam Thomas from CGG Satellite Mapping highlighted to me that the WISE Uranium Project now have an entry for this tailings release:-

Date Location Parent company Ore type Type of Incident Release Impacts
2020, Mar. 28 Tieli, Yichun City, Heilongjiang Province, China Yichun Luming Mining Co., Ltd (subsidiary of state-run China Railway Resources Group Co., Ltd ) molybdenum “No. 4 overflow well” [decant tower?] of the tailings dam tilted, resulting in the release of supernatant water and tailings through a drainage tunnel, while the embankment itself remained intact 2.53 million m3 water and tailings flowed through surrounding area, reaching Yijimi river after 3 km, threatening the drinking water resource of 68,000 people in Tieli City; by Apr. 4, the pollution reached 208 km downstream


So many thanks to you all for your hard work on piecing this together.  It is another beautiful example of crowd-sourcing an answer to a geotechnical conundrum.

I thought it would be interesting to go back to the site of the Luming Mine tailings release to see what has happened since.  This is a Planet Labs PlanetScope (3 m resolution) image of the site, collected on 15 April 2020:-

Luming Mine

A satellite image of the aftermath of the Luming mine tailings release. Copyright Planet Labs, used with permission. Image collected 15 April 2020.


The image shows to the right of the centre the work that was undertaken to build a platform out to the site of the collapse of the decant tower and to plug it, preventing further tailings releases from this location.  These works are shown in images after the accident.  The deformation in the tailings around this point is still evident.

Meanwhile the large volume of tailings downstream of the dam remains in place.

A news report (in Chinese) provides some further insight into the situation.  It states that 2.53 million cubic metres of tailings were released, making this a very large event. The tailings have now traveled 200 km downstream, and on 19 April 2020 an emergency response was initiated by the Yichun City authorities.  Finally, it reports that production at the mine remains suspended.


Planet Team (2020). Planet Application Program Interface: In Space for Life on Earth. San Francisco, CA. https://www.planet.com/