Like many other countries that use nuclear power, the US does not recycle its nuclear waste. Yucca Mountains in Nevada is chosen to be the national repository of all the nuclear waste produced. It is estimated that this waste will remain hazardously radioactive for about 10K years. Hence it is essential to have a system in place to warn all the future human generations and any other possible intelligent species that would roam the Earth in next 10K years of the imminent dangers of the repository being disturbed. As the Office of civilian radioactive waste management (OCRWM) website mentions, “The [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] NRC requires that the monuments or markers “accurately identify the location of the repository, be designed to be as permanent as practicable and convey a warning against intrusion into the underground repository, because of risk to public health and safety from radioactive wastes.” It goes on to say, however, “ ….. but the designs will not be final for some time because they will not be approved by the NRC until shortly before the repository is to be permanently sealed and closed.”, which could another 50 to 300 years.
However, in 2002, the Desert Space Foundation held an exhibition called ‘Universal warning sign: Yucca Mountain’, which comprised of winning designs in a variety of media that engage the challenge of creating an effective universal warning sign/permanent marker for the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mt., Nevada. How does one communicate with earthlings (yes, I’m not just saying humans) from the future? Sounds like a question from a sci-fi novel, doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what all the participants in this challenge had to think about. Even though this challenge and exhibition were held about 7 years ago, I still find the concept relevant today and for a long time to come. If we think of this question in a general context, I’m sure it will be a very intriguing thought process. Would they understand our script and language? Probably not! Would even the symbols we use for radioactive, biohazard or any other concept have the same significance after all these years? Who knows!
Some of the entries to this challenge were very creative, some peculiar (why UFO?) and some which curiously made me think of all the cosmically aligned ancient megaliths around the world! While most entries focused on driving people away from the site by inducing fear and uneasiness, only one design (*thinking megaliths*) tried to educate the people who would visit the site of the dangers. Once again, as I said before, I feel this challenge and the entries for it are much thought provoking for humans of any era. Because future is always staring us in the face.