There's merch for long-time nuclear waste warning messages

Originally published at: There's merch for long-time nuclear waste warning messages | Boing Boing

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giphy

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Future archaeologists, upon stumbling across a nuclear waste site: “Oh, it’s just another one of those weird messages we find everywhere on household items, only this time on a plaque. Nothing to worry about.”

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If you don’t know the history of long-term nuclear waste storage and warnings it’s actually really interesting

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Agreed. The long form version is Deep Time: How Humanity Communicates Across Millennia, by Gregory Benford. Highly recommended. :slight_smile:

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Those messages are for sites for storing nuclear waste, not necessarily nuclear disaster. It’s just that depending on the specific process, the nuclear waste can still be dangerously radioactive for thousands of years, so even if you store it thousands of feet underground, you need some way to convince people centuries in the future that what’s buried there is not in fact treasure, but quite the opposite.

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Now I want a sign for my bathroom door.

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In Spanish or English?

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Girl Why Dont We Have Both GIF

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Swiped for the Nukes thread.

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I’ve been long fascinated by this problem. We have a moral responsibility to mark nuclear waste storage. But any marking we try to use will either be nonsensical or not taken seriously by people thousands of years from now.

The classic example is Egyptian tombs. They did everything they could to warn away from entering them for what they believed were deeply important reasons. Yet we laugh off their warnings because they were “primitive” people. Any marking of site we do will likely be viewed the same way. “Haha, those silly superstitious 21st century people. Nothing they were afraid of matters to us”. The marking encourages people to dig it up.

This whole thing may end being moot in the end though, because one of the following is likely anyway:

  1. A few people dig it up, get really sick and die, then everyone learns in a hurry to avoid the area. Same way we all learned what plants to not eat.

  2. We’ll still have Geiger counters in the future so people will detect the waste anyway (or they will have rediscovered radiation and invented them again by the time they find it)

  3. We’ll have used it all up with modern breeder reactors by then anyway. All current waste is fuel for newer reactor designs, we just haven’t bothered building anything from a design newer than 1965. :roll_eyes:

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Ah, the optimism of the ‘90s when it was still just possible to believe that we would need to communicate with our future issue across a gulf of millennia. The way we’re headed if there’s anyone left to talk to 10 months from now it’ll be a miracle.

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The one factor I’d be curious to know the impact of is that(while almost certain to be the most carefully crafted and high budget) nuclear waste sites aren’t going to be some sort of unique thing; but part of an entire genre of waste storage sites. If the hypothetical discoverer has some degree of archeology, or even decent pattern recognition and oral history, that gives them a much better chance of recognizing what type of structure they are messing with (whether that is ‘one of the cursed places that sickens people’ or ‘where the foolish 21st century stockpiled valuable resources it was too stupid to know how to exploit’).

That’s arguably the case of the pyramids: the warnings certainly didn’t keep people out; but people knew full well that they were poking around a ritual/ceremonial burial facility well before the linguistics necessary to read the signage was done; and quite a few of them were there specifically because they knew that people have been storing valuables with the ashes of their fathers and the temples of their gods since roughly forever.

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If there are archaeologists in the future, then there is a good chance they already know what nuclear waste is. It’s the average person in a post-civ society that people are worried about.

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Though modern archaeologists can be surprisingly oblivious about the dangers of excavating sites contaminated with things like mercury. It’s a contingent workforce largely trained only a few months in field methods

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The pyramids were (slightly) less than 5,000 years old then.
We’re talking 250,000+ years to keep the interesting bits of nuclear waste safe.

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For context, this is about as long as the history of our species. Far outside the range of oral history (unless it’s about what happened to great grandpa Joe after he trespassed near the weird rocks)

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Yup. What passes as human by today’s standards has walked the Earth for 300,000 years now, give or take.
Plutonium has a half life of roughly 25,000 years.
Depending on who you ask, waiting time is 10 to 20 times the half life until it is harmless.
That’s a timeframe that simply can’t be planned for.

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We rely on environmental assessments done by specialists, just like the rest of the construction industry does.

Of course that only works if the developers actually forward their reports. A friend of mine had to stop an excavation recently when a horrified environmental consultant happened to come by and shut everything down. Turns out they had written a report that required everyone to wear PPE due to industrial contamination but the developer hadn’t bothered to tell the archaeology firm.

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Were I a person who could not read English and was unfamiliar with the safety meanings of the symbols involved, I’d interpret the first image in the article as:

Biohazard (the band) is playing the local school and/or church basement (the places I’ve most often seen the radiation sign outside hospitals), McCauley Culkin will be in attendance (obviously) and will be rocked into a coma.

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