How To Protect The Future From Our Nuclear Waste?

dangerPasta&Vinegar on a fascinating 10,000-year design conundrum: how to house our radioactive waste in such a way that the next 400 generations will understand the danger, and not try to tamper or remove the markers. One would assume that over that period, most of our civilization, language, symbols, and physical structures as we know them will cease to exist:

“Permanent Markers Implementation Plan” is a project initiated in 2004 by the U.S. Department of Energy in order to provide a permanent record which identifies the location of nuclear waste repository and its dangers.

This report described the task handled by one of the expert group made of an anthropologist, an astronomer, an archaeologist, an environmental designer, a linguist, and a materials scientist. The brief for them was basic:

“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.“

This team work led to the definition of design guidelines, which, in turn, served as the starting point for several alternative designs for the entire site: “Shunned land…poisoned, destroyed, unusable”, “Shapes that hurt the body and shapes that communicate danger”.

Their conclusion is also fascinating:

“To design a marker system that, left alone, will survive for 10,000 years is not a difficult engineering task.

It is quite another matter to design a marker system that will for the next 400 generations resist attempts by individuals, organized groups, and societies to destroy or remove the markers. While this report discusses some strategies to discourage vandalism and recycling of materials, we cannot anticipate what people, groups, societies may do with the markers many millennia from now.

A marker system should be chosen that instills awe, pride, and admiration, as it is these feelings that motivate people to maintain ancient markers, monuments, and buildings.“

I find the brief utterly curious: designing a system that would work for 10’000 years is an inspiring starting point in the age of planned obsolescence.

, , , ,

  • Anarchy Pony

    But how do you make it so no one will try to go down into these places? The egyptians tried to keep people from entering their tombs with talk of curses and things, but how will people in the future necessarily know that radiation isn’t just some superstitious nonsense like people assumed curses were?
    Even if you used graphic representations of people dying slow horrible radiation poisoned deaths, will future people take it at face value?

    • Null

      The difference is that the “curse” of radiation is real, and will likely kill people that enter it’s bounds. People don’t need to know about radiation; they need to know that it will kill you, and that is all.

      • Anarchy Pony

        But that isn’t my point, my point is how will people in the future necessarily know that? How can you convey that in a way that will make people truly understand?

        I suppose it’s arguable that only people that are overly curious will bother trying to enter such places and that the general populace will probably leave it alone.

      • Lupert

         I could write a movie script using this idea.

        Basically some “humans” in the future find this site and decide to live near it
        then they have children and the kids are mutated beasty things.

        then after a few drama scenes we find out more people are getting the illness and they are not able to figure out the cause (being unable to read the language the warning is written in ) and near the end of the movie something terrible would happen. still thinking about that part lol.

  • Anti-Citizen1

    But how do you make it so no one will try to go down into these places? The egyptians tried to keep people from entering their tombs with talk of curses and things, but how will people in the future necessarily know that radiation isn’t just some superstitious nonsense like people assumed curses were?
    Even if you used graphic representations of people dying slow horrible radiation poisoned deaths, will future people take it at face value?

  • Null

    The difference is that the “curse” of radiation is real, and will likely kill people that enter it’s bounds. People don’t need to know about radiation; they need to know that it will kill you, and that is all.

  • Anti-Citizen1

    But that isn’t my point, my point is how will people in the future necessarily know that? How can you convey that in a way that will make people truly understand?

    I suppose it’s arguable that only people that are overly curious will bother trying to enter such places and that the general populace will probably leave it alone.

  • Emailforpetitionscuzihatespam

    It’s not 10,000 years, it’s 100,000 years.

    Much of this has been covered earlier by Julia Bryan-Wilson in “Building a Marker of Nuclear Warning.” Monuments and Memory, Made and Unmade. Ed. Margaret Olin and Robert Nelson. University of Chicago Press. Fall 2003: 183-204.

    cf. the (forthcoming) article by Andrew Moisey, “Considering the Desire to Enshrine our Buried Nuclear Waste” about Michael Madsen’s film “Into Eternity.”

  • Emailforpetitionscuzihatespam

    It’s not 10,000 years, it’s 100,000 years.

    Much of this has been covered earlier by Julia Bryan-Wilson in “Building a Marker of Nuclear Warning.” Monuments and Memory, Made and Unmade. Ed. Margaret Olin and Robert Nelson. University of Chicago Press. Fall 2003: 183-204.

    cf. the (forthcoming) article by Andrew Moisey, “Considering the Desire to Enshrine our Buried Nuclear Waste” about Michael Madsen’s film “Into Eternity.”

  • Curtis7676

    This concept has been around a long time…I worked on this as a geographer in the 90s, most surveys done indicated these markers would attract people more than scare them off.  It was based on a concept that postulated America would be no more in 10,000 years so how to warn people, giant thorny spires like the one in the illustration were the most popular, however it was determined to use a type of magnetic marker in the ground and on the surface to convey the radioactive decay rate and it was assumed any intelligent people or beings approaching with mining equipment or such would understand the dangers in the area.  A plan to just cover the area in black granite and all other types of symbols that could be seen from the air or on the ground were proposed, but again only seemed to create tourist spots.  Ha

  • Curtis7676

    This concept has been around a long time…I worked on this as a geographer in the 90s, most surveys done indicated these markers would attract people more than scare them off.  It was based on a concept that postulated America would be no more in 10,000 years so how to warn people, giant thorny spires like the one in the illustration were the most popular, however it was determined to use a type of magnetic marker in the ground and on the surface to convey the radioactive decay rate and it was assumed any intelligent people or beings approaching with mining equipment or such would understand the dangers in the area.  A plan to just cover the area in black granite and all other types of symbols that could be seen from the air or on the ground were proposed, but again only seemed to create tourist spots.  Ha

  • Lupert

     I could write a movie script using this idea.

    Basically some “humans” in the future find this site and decide to live near it
    then they have children and the kids are mutated beasty things.

    then after a few drama scenes we find out more people are getting the illness and they are not able to figure out the cause (being unable to read the language the warning is written in ) and near the end of the movie something terrible would happen. still thinking about that part lol.

  • Karhart

    Jim Stone has an investigative journalism report that is an interesting read…
    http://www.jimstonefreelance.com/busted.html
    “…What if foreign nations, (France was one) offered us hundreds of billions of dollars for our “spent fuel” only to have the U.S. Government refuse the offer for no reason at all? Would that not solve the problem of getting rid of it? And the final question, WHY would the Fed want so much nuclear material sitting around the country, only to become a menace? …”

  • Karhart

    Jim Stone has an investigative journalism report that is an interesting read…
    http://www.jimstonefreelance.com/busted.html
    “…What if foreign nations, (France was one) offered us hundreds of billions of dollars for our “spent fuel” only to have the U.S. Government refuse the offer for no reason at all? Would that not solve the problem of getting rid of it? And the final question, WHY would the Fed want so much nuclear material sitting around the country, only to become a menace? …”

  • Simiantongue

    “How To Protect The Future From Our Nuclear Waste?”

    Their answer? “Permanent Markers Implementation Plan”. That’s hysterically funny. I suppose it has never occurred to these dipweeds that the only sure way to protect the future from our nuclear waste is… get ready for it. Is to not to make any.

  • Simiantongue

    “How To Protect The Future From Our Nuclear Waste?”

    Their answer? “Permanent Markers Implementation Plan”. That’s hysterically funny. I suppose it has never occurred to these dipweeds that the only sure way to protect the future from our nuclear waste is… get ready for it. Is to not to make any.