How do we warn future generations about buried radioactive waste?

I found a really cool article this morning at the always-enlightening Damn Interesting on the subject of how to warn future generations about the radioactive waste we are burying. As most of this stuff will remain deadly for 10,000 years there’s no guarantee future explorers who stumble upon it will speak English or any other current language for that matter.

There’s no telling who might be around to exhume our radioactive sins in future centuries, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that warnings be erected which will warn away potential intruders for the next 10,000 years, whomever those intruders may be.

The offending nuclear waste will be stored far underground at each of these facilities, but there is still a danger that future generations might stumble across it. WIPP is located in the desert outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, and its storage areas are located 2,150 feet underground. Yucca Mountain’s facilities in the Nevada desert are intended to house waste at 1,000 feet deep. Between the two, they are meant to entomb tens of thousands of metric tons of nuclear waste, most of which will remain dangerous for centuries. Each of these locations was selected due to its relative geologic stability, theoretically allowing facilities there to contain the waste for the required 10,000 years.

The article goes on to describe some of the ideas and it also provides links to some other sites on the subject. It all makes for pretty fascinating reading. I particularly like a couple of prototype warnings:

They remind me of Fallout. Perhaps Pip-boy could be helpful?

Won’t the swarming hordes of radioactive mutant zombies kinda clue them in that this is a no-go zone?

I’m not going to say anything about my backyard…

Of course, given current trends of technological development, as long as we avoid blowing ourselves up for the next hundred years it’s really going to be a moot issue…

So, like, at some point we’re just going to forget where we put all the nuclear waste?

The bottom one makes it look like the waste makes the trees grow very quickly… like it’s some kind of miracle-gro ad.

Obelisks made of granite or some space age composite with skulls all over it?

Moat + Dragon

Indiana Jones style traps.

Of course that will happen. Color me cynical, but what large cooperation has any interest in reminding you about this stuff? What politician wants you to remind you about this stuff. If he reminded you about that nuclear waste site, you might actually demand that something be done about it. Why spend money fixing a problem when we can simply pretend or forget it exists?

I’m shocked we are going to all this trouble to bury nuclear waste. Why not just dump it in the ocean where it belongs?

How much of what some nation did 2000 years ago is easily rememberd without, you know, archaeology?

There’s really no reason to believe that any modern day political institution will last for another ten milleniia. Putting up some easily understood warning is just common sense.

Why not just put a large radiation symbol on it and “DANGER! RADIOACTIVE WASTE” in every convievable language? Surely not every single human language is going to be dead and gone in 10,000 years, even if only as an academic pursuit. And if somehow we are all dead, this could be our list “fuck you” to the aliens that killed us.

Yeah, because when they found the pyramids and all the graves in the Valley of Kings they could just turn to the nearest Egyptian and ask for a translation of all the funny cartoons on the wall.
And that was a mere 3000 years.

Anyway, I saw a nice 60 minutes about the hundreds of mistakes and money saving shortcuts made by the corporation building some of these facilities, so the chances of them lasting for 10.000 years are so slim it makes the whole warning thing pretty moot.
And that was in the worlds wealthiest nation - somehow I don’t think the chinese, russians, south african, iranians etc. is doing any better at safekeeping this crap for so long.

If we arent off the planet by then: who cares? Those lazy fuckers can just die.

We forgot who built the Sphinx in Egypt, or why, in less time.

You do realize that lingual drift is a pretty rapid phenomenon when we start talking about timescales that exceed ten centuries or so right?

So when is this mass die-off of linguists going to happen?

Squirrel Killer: Heck if I know, the only thing I do know is that I think it’s safe to assume the worst when planning on a TEN MILLENIUM timespan.

In that case, anything we put up would probably be treated by humans in 5,000 years about the same way that we treat Egyptian curses today. Ooooooh! Do not enter the hallowed ground, or death awaits!

Except we’d be right.

The best solution is to make it possible for a future excavator to translate it. As long as they can deciper something, anything, from this general era (and by era, I mean in the last 2,000 years), a careful excavator will figure it out. And if they’re not careful, well, I’m not going to feel too bad about killing the alien morons of tomorrow.

I think a series of pictures that need no translation would work, all we need to do is figure out how to make the pictures last that long. Anyway the pictures would be simple:

Picture one, show one of the radio active barrels.

Picture two, show some guy standing next to it.

Picture three, show the guy opening it and looking inside.

Picture four, show the guy’s flesh melting off his face.

Picture 5, show the same barrel with the skeleton of a guy next to it in a pool of glowing goo.

I do not think such pictures would even be beyond human comprehension. Even aliens digging this up would most likely be clued in.