Communicating with the Far future: Nuclear Waste

A videoon placing warning signs at sites of nuclear waste storage. Due to the long half lives of these products they need to be kept for many millennia, which makes it very likely that the storage facilities will eventually be forgotten. The challenges is to ensure that warnings are understood and the place remains undisturbed long after modern culture and languages are extinct, so we don’t hurt our descendants in the year 11174AD.

The US Dept of Energy came up with a message (to be translated into all UN Languages) to hopefully give Future!Humans the hint to stay the hell away. It starts at about 7:00 minute mark, although the whole video is worth a look.
I will say

I think the message is simply going to make future humans more curious. Since when has “Stay Away” ever stop intrepid archaeologists?:smiley:

Seriously, if such a message was at an Egyptian Temple would you not want to investigate?

Plus the message will be the future Rosetta Stone.

“In the name of Anubis, God of the Dead, do not enter! A horrid fate awaits! Your teeth and hair will fall out! Your entrails will burn from the inside out! You will DIE!”
Yeah, like that would have deterred Carter and Lord Carnarvon.

Isn’t there some way to make the area in question burn in a helllike blaze unto perpetuity?

That message looks like exactly the kind of message you’d put on something really valuable to scare people off with the threat of a curse, I really don’t get why they’d expect it keep people out.

I’ve always liked that stuff (I remember they wanted to design “dissuasive architecture” around such sites too, like forests of spiky metal trees…) ; but why can’t it be plainly descriptive ? “Warning : we’ve been dumping plutonium here ; in case you don’t know it’s what we call the element of nuclear mass XXX, we dit Y to it and it’s going to remain deadly for Z years”. The whole “this is a place of no honour” bit seems to be addressed to non-human or post-apocalyptic iron age cultures. It’s OK to add it in case Conan stumbles upon it, but why not *also *be specific in case it’s ET ?

Barring that, and assuming containment breach, one would expect the glowing trees would be a bit of a hint of something fucky being involved…

In fact, thinking upon it further, I think I’ve put my finger on why exactly the vaguely ominous terms irk me : it’s Bible stuff. It’s “you shouldn’t eat pork because OOGA BOOGA !”. Just fucking tell me it’ll give me the deadly shits and you’ve seen it happen, you don’t have to get all monotheist about it, jeez.

Since that presumes

  1. They employ the same scientific nomenclature and tabulations as we do; there are other periodic tables even today.

  2. They employ the same methods to measure time scales and if not they’ll be able to easily transalte it into their own.

  3. That its some scientifically literate individual who stumbles across, not a pair of 210th Century Liberal Art students looking for a quiet place for a shag and a smoke.

True, but nuclear mass is relatively straightforward and universal - the number of protons/neutrons in a given atom isn’t subjective OR time-dependant ; nor are the properties of an atome of a given nuclear mass. The various periodic tables vary in how to classify stuff, not identify it.

Add an explicative sidebar if you feel you need to.

Fair enough. Add “if you don’t know when that is, err on the side of caution and assume it’s still dangerous because it’s deadly for a REALLY LONG TIME”

No worries, they’re unlikely to stage an impromptu 1500-feet deep digging session unless the guy is really good at it. And I almost wrote “dogging” there, which I just had to tell people about.
Since those storage facilities are unlikely to be disturbed except by determined, well-supplied parties with industrial means I think it’s relatively safe to assume that those messages will be pondered over by the era’s and specie’s equivalent of top men. Top. Men.

We just need to discourage future archaeologists with elaborate traps; rolling boulders, poison darts, snake pits, giant rubies that steal your soul, that sort of thing.

All of which are somehow less dangerous than nuclear waste.

I agree with Kobal2 that we should include as much information as possible. Put the dry scientific stuff in fine print beneath the giant DEATH AND DISHONOR, maybe, but still put it there.

But it’s largely irrelevant, because treasure-hunters will be looting those places long before they’re forgotten. Not because they don’t know what the stuff is, but because they do: Radioactive “waste” is extremely valuable.

And the real Rosetta Stone of the future won’t be this anyway; it’ll be the foil seal on tins of Twinings tea.

I disagree that it will be “very likely” to be forgotten … are we comparing today’s ability to record information with 10,000 years ago? … I think the better comparison is what we know of the Roman Empire, which is actually quite a bit, that was 2,000 years ago and information technology has been much improved since …

Plus, these long term storage facilities will need on-going maintenance and monitoring … and as Chronos points out, thousands of years from now this stuff will have value …

Even at half the current rate of “loss of containment” incidents … we’ll have dozens of hot spots around the world … losing the location of the storage facility will be the least of our problems …

Nah… it’ll be assembly instructions for an IKEA dresser in 15 languages… and pictures!!!

Fuck 'em. If they can’t figure out that the shit’s hella radioactive, they deserve to mutate.

I wonder if Ikea uses the same 15 languages that Twinings does. And yes, I just counted: There are literally 15 languages on the Twinings foil.

Waste is valuable?
And they aren’t worried about people who know it’s the who’ll presumably take precautions, it’s for the oblivious.

I’m not sure what you mean; days, months and years are pretty much derived from real-world examples- days and years are pretty obvious, and months are more or less the cycle of the moon, cleaned up for keeping time.

They’d have to go pretty wild to come up with something not based on those three things.


Write it in as many languages as you can. On the back, include the specific details in a few languages that give a representative sample of the various language families.

We use the movement of certain celetial bodies to keep time. Its not necessarily a given that would continue to be the case.

Or the would understand what we meant even if they did.

There is a fun Lincoln Child novel - Deep Storm -that deals with this scenario.

This link has a good description, (also MAJOR spoilers)

The part I remembered most was the ages old waste dump designers were transmitting “impossible” equations as a way to try to indicate “forbidden”.