A Clock That Tics Once A Year
August 9, 2015 9:30 AM   Subscribe

"Erik, photojournalist, and I have come here to try and get the measure of this place. Nevada is the uncanny locus of disparate monuments all concerned with charting deep time, leaving messages for future generations of human beings to puzzle over the meaning of: a star map, a nuclear waste repository and a clock able to keep time for 10,000 years—all of them within a few hours drive of Las Vegas through the harsh desert." -- Built For Eternity, Elmo Keep on structures designed to potentially outlast human civilization. (Motherboard)
posted by The Whelk (67 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's certainly a terrible name for a dog, beloved or no, and starting the second sentence of the article with it is quite jarring.

[edit: not "starting" the second sentence, I guess, but still.]
posted by Earthtopus at 9:35 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


The problem with the nuclear waste warning monument is, it's going to send a message of "here is an interesting archeological site that maybe will make your career!", no matter what other message it sends. I'm sure people have tried to address that in their proposals, of course.
posted by thelonius at 10:07 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, pieces on Yucca always makes me think of Oak Island.

Future Archaeologist: 'This is sooooooo tough!!!!!! WERE GETTING CLOSE!!!!'
posted by mrdaneri at 10:16 AM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The documentary Into Eternity is one of the best inquiries into this subject. Highly recommended.
posted by Ratio at 10:19 AM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Neal Stephenson's Anathem explores the idea of the 10,000 year clock, and what it would take to support it
posted by Gorgik at 10:37 AM on August 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I recognize some of the themes here from discussions about how trying to communicate with alien civilizations could result in humankind's destruction because obviously the aliens must be space nazis. Same baseless and paranoid line of thinking, mostly reflective of how violent and ignorant we are as a species and how poorly we treat each other.

So no, I don't think that future archeologists will end life as we know it simply by futzing around in a nuclear waste facility like a bunch of drooling nitwits. More likely, they have the technology - because it's been 10000 years!!! - to neutralize nuclear waste or, you know, use their $5 pocket size nuclear waste detector because it's the future goddamnit.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:01 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've read about this before, but only now do I wonder: Why the hell wasn't this not a location in Fallout: NV?
posted by absalom at 11:02 AM on August 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Foci for AnalysisI don't think they will end all life on Earth, but I may think they will find the salt caverns full of mysterious metal drums and the beautiful greenish-gold-glass within (think of the trade value!!!) irresistible, at their newly-rediscovered-ca-1850-ish view of the world.

The use of chips of this glass a trade currency might have poor impacts on health.
posted by mrdaneri at 11:13 AM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Bezos spent tens of millions of dollars on a really fancy clock.

Can someone give him better ideas for vanity projects? The Gates Foundation building is literally 800 yards from Amazon headquarters. He can look out the window and see it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:14 AM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


More likely, they have the technology - because it's been 10000 years!!! - to neutralize nuclear waste or, you know, use their $5 pocket size nuclear waste detector because it's the future goddamnit.

No, I don't think you can make assumptions like the continuity of technical knowledge, when speculating about what kind of human civilization may be here in 10,000 years. They may not know anything about radiation detection, depending on what's happened in the interim. That is a long time and it's a mistake to extrapolate from ~400 years of scientific and industrial progress to the rest of the future.
posted by thelonius at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've always figured the best way is to make the site as hard to find as possible, then boobytrap the entrance in such a way that anyone hapless enough to find it by accident will be bathed in enough radiation to kill them before they can ever tell anyone else about it. That ought to be enough of a hint.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:27 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


The problem with the nuclear waste warning monument is, it's going to send a message of "here is an interesting archeological site that maybe will make your career!", no matter what other message it sends. I'm sure people have tried to address that in their proposals, of course.

Gregory Benford's (non-fiction) book Deep Time considers some of the ways that a nuclear waste site could be indicated as hazardous to our descendants many millennia hence after massive changes in languages and unknown changes to civilizations. One f the more intriguing idea was to mark it with massive monuments that indicate Bad Stuff to pretty much every culture: dark materials full of jagged edges and sharp angles, skulls, and so forth. Pretty much like the default fantasy assumptions for the evil overlord's realm, as I recollect.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:44 AM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


right, which is like, why more jung would want to be read first.
posted by mrdaneri at 11:46 AM on August 9, 2015


Foci for Analysis: "I recognize some of the themes here from discussions about how trying to communicate with alien civilizations could result in humankind's destruction because obviously the aliens must be space nazis. Same baseless and paranoid line of thinking, mostly reflective of how violent and ignorant we are as a species and how poorly we treat each other.

So no, I don't think that future archeologists will end life as we know it simply by futzing around in a nuclear waste facility like a bunch of drooling nitwits. More likely, they have the technology - because it's been 10000 years!!! - to neutralize nuclear waste or, you know, use their $5 pocket size nuclear waste detector because it's the future goddamnit.
"

Or the aliens will explain it to them, on the way to dinner.
posted by Splunge at 12:07 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The real problem of how to mark nuclear waste containment facilities is that the plans always always underestimate human exceptionalism. Humans think they are special and that the normal rules don't apply to them, so it doesn't matter how dark and scary and psychologically intimidating you make the place. The fact that the same dire warning is repeated in forty two dead languages is for lesser folk. The complex mathematical equations and pictographic chemical and physical explanations of just what exactly is sealed in the depths below are just to scare off the unworthy from the true treasures buried within. We are special, and can handle what ever is in there just fine, thank you very much.
posted by Meeks Ormand at 12:14 PM on August 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seems the Finns have the 100,000 year solution though:

"This longevity poses Onkalo's custodians, and others in their position, with another unprecedented design issue: what sign should you put on the door?"
posted by clavdivs at 12:24 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's always seemed a crying shame to me that the Long Now Foundation, which is obstensibly about thinking over the very long term, and building something that will last for millennia, is so concerned about being so goddamn hip. What exactly does a trendy bar with personalized fucking bourbon have to do with long term thinking? That's not even taking into account their TED-lite speakers they're always shilling. How about an update on the freaking clock? They haven't updated that page in like two years!

I blame Stewart Brand.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


all i can do is a lonely 'yesssssss' at an empty food-truck-court over by their empty office cum gallery thing over there on the north side.
posted by mrdaneri at 12:33 PM on August 9, 2015


How about an update on the freaking clock? They haven't updated that page in like two years!

Eh, give them another century or two.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:37 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Radioactive waste from spent nuclear fuel has a shelf life of hundreds of thousands of years. Maybe even more than a million, it’s not possible to precisely predict.

Is there anything more loathsome than a Vice writer? Ah yes, a Vice writer who misinforms the public about basic high school science concepts.
posted by johnnydummkopf at 12:47 PM on August 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


Isn't the logical option to create barriers that can only be unlocked with a certain level of technology? You're not getting into e.g. Cheyenne Mountain with a flint hammer, right? So wouldn't it make sense to simply harden the storage area in a way that can't be opened without having the tech required to know it would be a bad idea to open?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:52 PM on August 9, 2015


I was fascinated by the Yucca Mountain proposals, but there is simply no way to design a large, monumental edifice that says, "keep away." That's like designing a couch to keep away cats. People are going to go look at a thing, if it interests them, and skulls and crossbones would only attract teenagers. The best they could have done was to make the place hot, scrubby, dry, boring and useless, with buried written warnings if all else failed.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:54 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't the logical option to create barriers that can only be unlocked with a certain level of technology?

oh boy a safe
posted by mrdaneri at 12:54 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I was thinking something perhaps a bit more complex than that.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:56 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


One thing that will remain and send a message into the far future is Mount Rushmore, which will last for up to 7.2 million years. It's a fitting tombstone for the USA, not only showing our greatest presidents but our willingness to steal and deface the lands of others.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:02 PM on August 9, 2015


Myself, i'd embed the vitrified waste pellets at the surface in a wasteland. The message would be death, death would be the message. Nothing grows here, nothing can grow here, ever. This area is cursed. We cursed this area. Avoid this area.
posted by mrdaneri at 1:09 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the inheritors of an impoverished, storm-wracked world filled with the drowned cities of the Mad Old Ones will be warning enough. We just need to make it clear that this was our power plant waste that we felt was dangerous enough to bury where we thought it could never again see the light of day, instead of, you know, just dumping it into the atmosphere.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 1:17 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


*Write down recipe for cement
posted by clavdivs at 1:18 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


$ whois longnow.org
Domain Name:LONGNOW.ORG
Domain ID: D2408102-LROR
Creation Date: 1997-02-20T05:00:00Z
Updated Date: 2012-03-13T05:19:22Z
Registry Expiry Date: 2017-02-21T05:00:00Z
That doesn't seem in character with their mission. Or else they know something we don't know.
posted by ardgedee at 1:31 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Forgotten Works

NOBODY KNOWS how old the Forgotten Works are, reaching as they do into distances that we cannot travel nor want to.
Nobody has been very far into the Forgotten Works, except that guy Charley said who wrote a book about them, and I wonder what his trouble was, to spend weeks in there.
The Forgotten Works just go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. You get the picture. It’s a big place, much bigger than we are.
Margaret and I went down there, holding hands for we were going steady, through the sun of a blue day and white luminous clouds drifting overhead.
We crossed over many rivers and walked by many things, and then we could see the sun reflecting off the roofs at inBOIL's bunch of leaky shacks which were at the entrance to the Forgotten Works.
There is a gate right there. Beside the gate is the statue of a forgotten thing. There is a sign above the gate that says:

THIS IS THE ENTRANCE TO THE FORGOTTEN WORKS
BE CAREFUL
YOU MIGHT GET LOST
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 1:58 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


They haven't updated that page in like two years!

That's but a blink of an eye in Long Now time.
posted by notyou at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm aware of the political and public relations obstacles, but it seems to me that the only reasonable place to dispose of this sort of waste -- or anything similar -- is one of the subduction zones, such as the Mariana Trench. Not only would it be impossible to get to for anyone but a civilization even more advanced than ours, but it would eventually be subducted under the crust and recycled geologically where by the time it was again available to anyone (tens of millions to billions of years), it would be dispersed and (almost entirely) decayed to stable isotopes.

I see that the Wikipedia entry on the Mariana mentions this -- it says that earthquakes in subduction zones (such as the recent Japanese Tōhoku quake) might be "adverse to the safety of long-term disposal". I don't really see how that would be possible, even if the containment was violated (which obviously will happen eventually) -- it's not like there are currents (as far as I know) that could bring dissolved material up from those extreme and isolated depths. But what I don't know about oceanography is vast, so maybe that's possible. The other concern is the ecology there, limited and extreme as it is.

Bottom line, though, is that if you truly want to get rid of something, you have only two choices: drop it into the Sun (which is fast and as close to absolute as it could be) or drop it into a subduction zone (which is very slow and not quite as absolute, but closer to absolute than anything else in a planetary context).
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:11 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you think about today's archaeologists and how they'd react to a SUPER-SCARY CURSED PLACE FILLED WITH DEADLY SYMBOLS from an otherwise mythical civilisation, the magnitude of the problem should become apparent.

I say, build a super-simple ballista the size of Manhattan and throw the stuff, pellet by pellet, at the moon.
posted by Devonian at 2:14 PM on August 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


"This is not a place of honor" will at least keep the Klingons out
posted by thelonius at 2:18 PM on August 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The solution is simple. Show a video of Buster Keaton, then draw a circle and line over it. Aliens would get that one.
posted by Sphinx at 2:19 PM on August 9, 2015


> ...the only reasonable place to dispose of this sort of waste -- or anything similar -- is one of the subduction zones, such as the Mariana Trench.

It's a neat idea, but the problem is in reliably delivering the stuff there. Errors -- containers off-course during the descent, or leaking or bursting from the pressure before reaching the Trench -- will be catastrophic.
posted by ardgedee at 2:27 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Myself, i'd embed the vitrified waste pellets at the surface in a wasteland.
Same. To communicate danger, make it dangerous with a radioactivity gradient. If future archeologists lack the ability to read the warnings they’ll still be able to see signs of radiation poisoning in themselves as a sign of the much more power badness within.
posted by migurski at 2:53 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I really enjoy the statement from Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (as quoted in part above by thelonius) and I wonder how many committee meetings it took to nail it down to:
This place is not a place of honor.
No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.
This place is a message and part of a system of messages.
Pay attention to it!
Sending this message was important to us.
We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.
posted by komara at 3:00 PM on August 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


I would just point out how few partial transmissions and bit registers are required to fund a major archaeological project.

'PLACE OF HONOR'
'IMPORTANT TO US'
'POWERFUL CULTURE'

The subcommandant of reliquaries fainted, fanning its face. Her/its lips swole.

'This is the place.'
posted by mrdaneri at 3:04 PM on August 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Forgive me if I'm not going to fault the Long Now foundation for not updating their Web site every thirty seconds to send out hot new events on social media.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:07 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've been interested in the Long Now Foundation for years now, and it has definitely gotten me to accept long-term thinking as one of my values. I think the world and humanity is going to keep on existing for the next thousand years, or is capable of it, and that more people should share this view instead of thinking that some supernatural event will occur soon that makes everything everywhere unrecognizable. I've also never actually engaged with them beyond consuming their media because I'm shy and poor and live in Ohio and everything they ever do is in San Francisco and requires money to participate.

Unfortunately, the LNF thinks of thenselves as agents of long-term change, that the Clock will inexorably change human values on a geological timescale instead of a more relevant historical one. A better way of changing minds is to work like any other social movement, by actually organizing people who share the concern and working towards a shared set of goals.

The point of the event space, The Interval, is to become a place where people can come together and engage with each other about long term thinking. It is the closest thing they have to a place for grassroots organizing, and in the long term is probably a more effective idea than the Clock.
posted by Small Dollar at 3:17 PM on August 9, 2015


I think the world and humanity is going to keep on existing for the next thousand years

You have just made a bold statement of value.
posted by mrdaneri at 3:54 PM on August 9, 2015


I am with the Long Now Foundation. There are so many factual errors in this piece about the 10,000 year clock that it seriously challenges the author's mission. To begin with, the first sentence is wrong:

"Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million in cash and he also purchased the top of Mount Washington, in The Great Basin National Park, 300 miles west of Las Vegas."

That is incorrect. Bezos did not buy any land at the top of Mount Washington. The Long Now Foundation purchased it decades ago, with no help, knowledge, awareness or connection to Bezos. Bezos has zero connection the property in Nevada.

The major problem with the article is that the Vice author did no reporting themself. They took bits of reporting appearing elsewhere on the web and conflated them. Bezos is funding a clock built by Long Now in Texas, on his own property, which the author incorrectly moves to Nevada. There is no clock in Nevada, and no clock being built in Nevada. The article is all about the long-term time (eternity) in Nevada, so it is convenient to just move the clock being built to Nevada. But wrong.

There are other made up parts as well, but I suggest you read a long piece I wrote about the Texas clock. As far as I can tell, this is the main source of the author's "reporting" although they manage to mangle the facts all the way through.
posted by kk at 4:18 PM on August 9, 2015 [32 favorites]


boobytrap the entrance in such a way that anyone hapless enough to find it by accident will be bathed in enough radiation to kill them before they can ever tell anyone else about it.

"Oh man, this place kills anybody who tries to enter it. There's got to be some awesome stuff inside. Keep trying."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:39 PM on August 9, 2015


It seems as if there has to be something more universal than this. Like enormous mounds of thousands of human skulls cast in bronze and left piled at the foot of the mountain.

This would be a horrible solution. Bronze is a valuable engineering metal. Leaving it lying around on the surface is just asking for someone to come along and steal it. Probably Bubba and his scrapper buddies in a clapped out Ford about 3 days after it is installed.

Also the Shoshone solution requires people to continuously inhabit the surrounding space for the duration; something that is likely to not be the case.
posted by Mitheral at 4:45 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have that Expert Judgement quote on a t-shirt from the 90s. IIRC it was an NTK thing. I still occasionally wear it, and usually get at least one question about it; that may say something about the likelihood of it attracting curious people, though I am not unusually radioactive.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 5:17 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


right, in the sense that the t''o'oonam nation predated me, and it will likely survive me, the way things are going, these days. I expect that they will tell tales of white folks and Tucson and World of Warcraft, to some extent, for a whiles, anyways.
posted by mrdaneri at 5:23 PM on August 9, 2015


Ours was a proud people, and always the strongest. For thousands of years, our empire expanded. For so long, we could imagine ourselves alone in the universe. For so long, never did we encounter advanced life.

And we travelled faster and farther, spreading in our galaxy; and before long, we could see the day when our reachable systems would have been exploited. And then there would be nowhere else to go.

And we discovered subspace. It gave us our galaxy, and it gave us the universe. And we saw other advanced life; and we subdued it, or we crushed it. In months, the elimination of billions of years of evolution on a similar but slower path. With subspace, our empire would surely know no boundaries.

When the destroyers came for us, we attacked. Never had we been defeated. They were like the others: strange, hideous, resisting, fighting. Only these were not like the others: They did not die.

We made our first retreat. We could forego one system. We left it to the destroyers and went elsewhere. But they followed. They hunted us. They followed us when we retreated, discovered where we lived.

For a long time we did not know why they chased us. They were no ordinary enemy. They did not seek our territory, our technology, our resources.

Now we know our crime was sin.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:01 PM on August 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I was thinking something perhaps a bit more complex than that.

Speak friend and enter.
posted by valkane at 6:24 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Were none of these people ever teenagers? Anything scary or horrifying or impressive is going to attract people who want to see what's behind it. Just make the dump as obscure as possible and as boring as possible. No skulls, no pointy rocks, no ominous inscriptions; just a deep, backfilled mine.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:00 AM on August 10, 2015


I kind of like the French approach, they found a geologically stable clay bed about half a kilometer under ground, and are digging tunnels down there to store the waste in. When it's filled, they'll fill in the access tunnel. There's no potable water, oil, gas, or other resources, so nobody should be drilling or tunneling down there anytime in the foreseeable future. There's no need to even mark it to keep people out if they can't find it and don't know its there. Building a big vault inside a mountain, that's pretty obvious, no good way to hide it.
posted by Blackanvil at 1:14 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last time we discussed this we talked about the "nuclear priesthood" idea modeled on the Catholic Church and I thought maybe we should just put a page in the regular Catholic Bible (and other scriptures) rather than creating a whole new priesthood.

The more I think about this the more I'm convinced this is our most reliable current known method of forward transmission. People care a LOT about correct forward transmission of holy books, they will leave things in rather than risk taking them out, and there will always be weirdos interested in studying even the most obscure holy book in the deadest of language. Scriptural study is typically at the cutting edge of sophistication for textual analysis ... again because people care a LOT about it. So I think that may be your best method of getting a "these are nuclear disposal sites and they are very dangerous" message preserved, transmitted forward, and understood in the future. Anything you stick on the landscape saying "don't go here" is a big flashing invitation to go there. It's not possible to create a strong enough taboo to keep people from wanting to see what's so taboo about it.

Future Biblical Archaeologists will still obviously try to go dig it up, but at least they'll have some idea what they're getting into.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:04 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Something like,
In the year 2100 AD, humanity buried radioactive waste in these sites (map). Radioactive waste is the most serious form of leftover pollution from nuclear energy factories; we extracted everything useful and virtuous from this waste and what is buried here is chaff, shit, dross. Radioactive waste kills plants and animals, including humans. In humans, death may be sudden, or may follow a long period of illness that begins with nausea, vomiting, and headaches. It is particularly dangerous to blood, causing cancers and anemia, and to the unborn. When it does not kill, it causes painful illnesses, barrenness, and abnormalities to the unborn. Radioactive waste causes this illness by mutating DNA. It remains dangerous for 10,000 years. It is possible that scientists in the future will know how to avert this danger. We do not. We can only avoid it and explain it. Radioactive waste is most dangerous when ingested through the mouth, airways, or skin, but can also be transmitted through the air as dust or as waves of energy. It is least dangerous when buried. Disturbing the burial place of the waste is dangerous, even if you take precautions. Future scientists may know how to take enough precautions. We do not. The man who exhumes it will die of this illness.

If you must excavate this waste and die to understand the danger, the smallest cache is located (here). Do not transport it away from its tomb; it will continue to kill men, women, and children, beasts and crops, trees and grass, until it is buried in its tomb again, and those places will remain cursed with its poison for many years to come. Study it only where we have left it. It is poison and death for all who come within its compass.

We as a species have asked our religious leaders to include this information in our holy books, so that our descendants will continue to know it and will not lose it. Do not add to these writings, and do not detract from them. Translate this warning for your countrymen and descendents, but preserve and copy these originals and allow not one jot or tittle to be changed. May the Lord bless you and keep you throughout all the days of your life. /s/ Pope Francis III AD 2105
Try to use words and phrases from each religion's holy books to give points of translation connection and to emphasize the idea of waste, chaff, illness, etc. But just explain clearly and simply what it actually is instead of this mysterious "this is not a place of honor." In your Catholic bible you'd probably want it on a single page in English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and another vernacular language -- that would hopefully give enough of a Rosetta stone. On the back of the page simple-ish diagrams of nuclear energy, maybe.

I thought about saying "in 1945 AD the American empire created a weapon from this waste and killed 200,000 people," but that seems like too much of an invitation to future rulers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:37 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


That would necessitate an enormous buy-in for including new, contentious information from basically all religious leaders, book publishers, etc. There's also the problem of the many, many copies currently in print that don't have this message.

The "this is not a place of honor" recommendation was part of a system of messages that included clear and simple descriptions, pictograms, even detailed records and maps. (Previous thread on that warning, and a summary paper).


Using a hidden or otherwise nondescript site means that people will stumble upon our concentrated death ooze randomly. This method is counting upon what we consider boring and out of the way and useless to continue to be all of these things. And it's not really taking into account the time-scale we're dealing with.

The more I think about it, the more a menacing, forbidding, noticeable site makes sense. Not everyone will accept the message, but I find that more reasonable than not sending a message at all.
posted by mountmccabe at 3:41 PM on August 10, 2015


Another problem with bringing religion into this is that you're essentially spreading the news of special sites. A single forbidding out of the way structure will only be seen by a few, and only some of those will be reckless enough to try and find their way in. Distributing maps about this around the world in books that inspire myriad wild interpretations, pilgrimages, and fanaticism in both followers and opponents seems unwise.
posted by mountmccabe at 3:53 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


"That would necessitate an enormous buy-in for including new, contentious information from basically all religious leaders, book publishers, etc."

No, see, this is the beauty of it - if the Pope says "please include this page, the Vatican translation office has approved vernacular translations," it basically automatically goes into a BILLION people's Bibles, in every written language in the world. That's a lot. You can get it up to 1/3 of the world's population's holy books with probably under half a dozen religious leaders and/or publishing companies.

" There's also the problem of the many, many copies currently in print that don't have this message."

I mean, that's okay, you don't find the Easter date tables in many Bibles before 1600, but 99% of the Bibles I consult are from after that date and have it in the end matter. I mean, 90% of them have the harmonized Gospel readings for years A, B, and C, and those only date to like 1970 and actually did require like two dozen Catholic and Protestant groups to all agree.

Books are relatively ephemeral but printed matter tends to replicate with reasonably high fidelity. There would be literally billions of copies of the information. It wouldn't tend to disappear, and scholars would know OF it even if they didn't have it in the immediate version they were working with.

"you're essentially spreading the news of special sites. ...Distributing maps about this around the world in books that inspire myriad wild interpretations, pilgrimages, and fanaticism in both followers and opponents seems unwise"

That train sailed when we first started talking and writing about it. My method attempts to preserve intact information that can be reasonably translated and decoded by experts, rather than half-wild snippets from E-mail forwards of Wired pieces from 4,000 years ago.

The real question is whether you think it's safer to have information about these dangers confined to elites, or broadly known and understood. I think the latter is considerably safer both for humans individually and for the information itself.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:07 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


One thing that will remain and send a message into the far future is Mount Rushmore, which will last for up to 7.2 million years. It's a fitting tombstone for the USA, not only showing our greatest presidents but our willingness to steal and deface the lands of others.

BEHOLD YE MORTALS THE FOUR-HEADED GOD, WORSHIPPED BY THE ANCIENTS IN THE TIME BEFORE THE FALL
posted by AdamCSnider at 10:17 PM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


the only reasonable place to dispose of this sort of waste -- or anything similar -- is one of the subduction zones

That might end up being a really regrettable idea; there's actually still a lot of utility in what we consider to be "nuclear waste" today. Lots of valuable isotopes. Lots of unreacted fissionables, in some cases.

We don't reprocess nuclear 'waste' for political (waste reprocessing was seen as a barrier to nonproliferation strategies) and economic reasons (only a very basic form of nuclear energy is profitable vs. fossil carbon). But none of those are guaranteed to be true in the future; in fact they are likely to not be true for especially long, on a geologic timeline. It might only be a few centuries before as a civilization we want to dig that stuff back up and do something useful with it.

There's only so much uranium on the planet; it'd suck to throw a large portion of the easily-accessible stuff into a subduction zone and then realize we'd really like to get it back to keep the lights on during the long winter caused by God-Emperor Trump's failed geoengineering project.

While the idea of creating 10,000-year warning signs is a very neat intellectual challenge, it's always struck me as unnecessary. We don't need a 10,000-year solution for nuclear waste, we need maybe a 300-year solution, which would give us the time to either come up with a better solution, or kill ourselves off completely via other means.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:02 PM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


WIPP is designed to hold transuranic waste. The WIPP about page describes says "It consists of clothing, tools, rags, residues, debris, soil and other items contaminated with small amounts of plutonium and other man-made radioactive elements."

Spent nuclear fuel is stored at GE's Morris Operation in Illinois; that is a very different facility and there is far less information about it online.
posted by mountmccabe at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Kadin2048: While the idea of creating 10,000-year warning signs is a very neat intellectual challenge, it's always struck me as unnecessary. We don't need a 10,000-year solution for nuclear waste, we need maybe a 300-year solution, which would give us the time to either come up with a better solution, or kill ourselves off completely via other means.

They were also concerned about scenarios in which we don't kill ourselves off completely, but just enough for civilizational collapse, which is now possible on an unprecedented global scale. The result is that there could be powerful, techological civilizations in the far future that have little to no cultural connection with any people group alive today.

The main goal of the WIPP design linked to earlier was to avoid inadvertent access.

This is a simple issue if we're assuming civilizational continuity; the systems of messages in seven different languages on the outer pillars and walls marking the spot will be easily understood. The plan details and maps distributed to libraries and other archives around the world will also be easily understood.

But the plan is for more than that: there is also concern about mass extinction/civilizational collapse, followed by the Mad Max times for a couple millennia, followed by new civilizations arising, to whom we are little but ancient myth. (For one general scenario).

And those civilizations could stumble upon a hidden/unmarked/nondescript sites, causing a huge number of deaths and a huge ecological disaster. The idea of the WIPP is to look convincingly forbidding to future, culturally unrelated people. Messages and pictograms that were designed to be deciphered by any civilization that would be able to disturb the site.
posted by mountmccabe at 10:59 AM on August 11, 2015


The idea of the WIPP is to look convincingly forbidding to future, culturally unrelated people.

Well, really the idea of the requirements for warnings understandable over millennia is just to be scary and expensive.

There are lots of industries outside nuclear power* that generate waste that will be toxic forever, most obviously heavy metals. When the sun goes giant and kills whatever life remains on Earth at that time, this stuff will still be harmful. If Earth ends up being incinerated and scattered across space in Sol's planetary nebula and is eventually reincorporated into some other life-bearing planet hundreds of billions of years into the future, it will still be toxic.

What kind of long-term warnings do we require for waste that will be toxic for as long as matter exists? None whatsoever. A lot of the time we don't even bother putting it into dumps; we just loft it into the atmosphere or leave it lying around in big piles.

*Nuclear waste actually fits here too since the stable decay products are [aliens]mostly[/aliens] heavy metals.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:38 AM on August 11, 2015


ROU_Xenophobe: What kind of long-term warnings do we require for waste that will be toxic for as long as matter exists? None whatsoever. A lot of the time we don't even bother putting it into dumps; we just loft it into the atmosphere or leave it lying around in big piles.

Are you saying you have a problem with how and when incineration is used? And what legal long-term storage sites are "big piles"?

The RCRA has a lot of regulations concerning Land Disposal. I'm not sure if they get into 10,000-year (or longer) plans (my work in this field has been more on the generator side (with far less dangerous materials) rather than processing or storage) but the idea that we have no warnings or regulations concerning toxic waste is absurd.

[My comment, like much of the previous discussion, is US-focused. Other agencies and legislation will apply to other jurisdictions].
posted by mountmccabe at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2015


The SANDIA/"Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter..." report has been linked here before and is really not a bad read (and a pretty handy conversation starter). See the first four MeFi results in this search for previous mentions and like articles.
For reference, the complete pdf or the report can be found here. (351 page, 20MB file).
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:08 PM on August 11, 2015


mountmccabe: " And what legal long-term storage sites are "big piles"?
"

Mine tailings are one example.
posted by Mitheral at 1:31 PM on August 12, 2015


That's certainly a terrible name for a dog, beloved or no, and starting the second sentence of the article with it is quite jarring.

It was a common name for a black dog at the time, but it did strike me as a funny coincidence that "Little Niggy" was the "beloved site dog" of Hoover Dam (1931-1936), and "Nigger" was the beloved mascot of the Dam Busters (1942-1943) squadron. Dam[n].
posted by pracowity at 5:27 AM on August 18, 2015


Any civilization sophisticated enough to drill a half mile down would be sophisticated enough to know WTF they were encountering down there.

Ergo, deep mine, backfill, done. If it gets exposed by weathering in fifty million years, well, who cares at that point?
posted by aramaic at 11:41 AM on August 18, 2015


It was a common name for a black dog at the time [...]

Animals in general, I think. I was jarred when I reread one of Ralph Moody's autobiographical books and realised why his horse was called "Nig".
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:28 PM on August 18, 2015


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