Pasta&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.