This, to me at least, is truly fascinating. Have a look at the image below, and ask yourself, would this type of warning even apply in A.D. 12,000? Would language, dates and symbols convey the same meaning in the distant future? Would there even be civilization as we currently understand it?
A Distant Warning (via Gin and Tacos)
In southern New Mexico the Department of Energy has been running an experimental facility called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Planning began in 1974 and the storage of radioactive waste began in 1999. It isn’t the first time anyone thought of Deep Geological Repository as a means of dealing with the thousands of tons of radioactive waste generated by the Atomic Age, but it might have the greatest chance of success due to the geology of the area. It is 3,000 feet below the surface in a salt bed that has been tectonically stable for over 250,000,000 million years. So scientists are confident that the site will remain undisturbed for the 10,000 years it will take for transuranic waste to cease being dangerously radioactive.
This creates an additional problem, though. What are the odds that the United States will be around in 10,000 years? What if there’s an ice age for a few thousand years that takes humanity back to the primitive, pre-language hunter-gatherer stage? In other words, how can the people behind the project today make it clear to someone who may or may not speak English or comprehend radioactivity that the site is dangerous and should not be disturbed?
Excerpts from the report can be found here. I highly recommend clicking over there and reading the whole thing. While I cannot hope to do it justice by summarizing it, I can most certainly copy/paste some of it! Here are some of the criteria being used:
The site must be marked. Aside from the legal requirement, the site will be indelibly imprinted by the human activity associated with waste disposal. We must complete the process by explaining what has been done and why.
The site must be marked in such a manner that its purpose cannot be mistaken.
Other nuclear waste disposal sites must be marked in a similar manner within the U.S. and preferably world-wide.
A marking system must be utilized. By this we mean that components of the marking system relate to one another is such a way that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Redundancy must play a preeminent role in the marking system design. The designs considered here have redundancy in terms of message levels, marking system components, materials, and modes of communication.
Each component of the marking system should be made of material(s) with little intrinsic value. The destructive (or recycling) nature of people will pose a serious threat to the marking system.
The components of the marking system should be tested during the next few decades while theWIPP is in operation, not only for the longevity of the materials but for the pan-cultural nature of the message. In other words, as with the repository design itself, the team was comfortable with the thought of designing a marking system that would last 10,000 years if left undisturbed. Our efforts focused on making it understandable while providing minimal incentive to disturb it. We also consider a public information effort a necessary part of the marking system design. A system that is not understood today has no chance of being understood in the far future.
What they are trying to accomplish, by finding a long-term location to store nuclear waste safely, certainly addresses one of the main concerns of using nuclear power as a long-term solution to energy needs. I’m rooting for them.
Unfortunately, some of the concepts they have come up with for warning future humans of the potential dangers are… amusing, to say the least. But I sympathize.
Here are a couple of examples:
What would make for a warning system that can not only be independent of cultural rules and language, but would literally stand the test of time?
My head hurts just thinking about it.
Enjoy your weekend!
(h/t Gin and Tacos)
I heard about this, didn’t quite believe it, but…
Project Oilsand, also known as Project Oilsands, and originally known as Project Cauldron, was a 1958 proposal to exploit the Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta via the underground detonation of a nuclear bomb; hypothetically, the heat and pressure created by an underground detonation would boil the bitumen deposits, reducing their viscosity to the point that standard oilfield techniques could be used.
Well, it’s a much shorter time frame – the warning signs/constructs would have been made in the late 1950s and early ’60s if this had happened, so I anticipate there’d be much less of a communication issue.
Happily enough – and you know this because you can drive by Fort McMurray and not soak up deadly amounts of radiation – this project never got off the ground in part because:
…the Canadian government’s stance on the use of nuclear weapons shifted towards one of non-proliferation; out of concerns that it would increase the risk of Soviet espionage, Project Oilsand was put on hiatus.