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Finland is building nuclear waste storage facility which is planned to last for 100.000 years.

There are quite few interesting design decisions to be made taking this lifespan in to account, for example if current civilization will be wiped out, what symbols you should put on a door to discourage someone in future to opening the door.



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.

This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.

What is here was dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

The danger is in a particular location... it increases towards a center... the center of danger is here... of a particular size and shape, and below us.

The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.

The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited


Funny thing is, if we discovered some ancient tomb or burial site with these messages we'd write it off as superstition and open it up anyway. I'm not sure some future civilization would be any different.

I agree. Hiding something and saying "please don't look for it," seems extraordinarily naïve of human nature.

If the threat is widespread human and environmental destruction, I wonder if an additional layer of warning does not need to consist of more constrained lethality. "We're going to show you what this stuff is, you should've really paid attention to the warnings."

"It is a place of evil: all who venture into the pit die in agony within a few days," seems like something that would have more cultural weight. And be trivially re-discoverable at any point. People don't go wandering into lava to see what's below. People wouldn't have stripped the Egyptian tombs if the warnings on the wall consistently came true. Perhaps the best warning of danger is danger.

And then, if the threat model is drilling, it seems to me very unlikely that a future mining civilisation would not understand pictures, maps and diagrams illustrating the content. Is an illustration really more culturally ambiguous than language?

Especially given we know cave paintings from several thousand years ago are relatively intelligible. People hunting bison.

You are totally right. I read that and I felt a chill right up my back telling me, There's cool stuff in there, go get your crowbar!

I thought someone was quoting halo at first.

Anyway, that's probably the reason that energy line is here. But you'd simply check everything you can measure at the time, conclude superstition and continue anyway.

I also particularly liked the idea of covering it with a layer of small boulders to make it unappealing to agriculture. It's like, have you ever heard of New England?

But is that better than leaving things lying around in unmarked caves? People's curiosity might kill them, but the best you can do is warn them.

I used this text as an intro to the classic D&D adventure "Tomb of Horrors" - in my reimagining, the ancient evil at the bottom of the tomb was its civilization's version of nuclear waste.

That sphere of Annihilation.... our first 'total party kill'.

Are there recognized symbols for vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, weight loss reaching near skeletal stages and finally death? Along with some kind of indicators for passage of time that seems more useful at least for high exposure areas.

The issue with that is we can make 0 assumptions about the culture we are trying to communicate with so pictograms aren't a good medium to begin with but let's set that aside. Consider maybe they don't even read left to right or top to bottom so now without carefully making sure they know how time is represented your message can be interpreted as one of resurrection and healing maybe?

Some things, like the passage of the sun in the sky, should be universal. Literally every civilization on Earth is familiar with the concept of a day. Death is a universal concept too.

Of course there is no helping if the future people are especially dismissive of your warnings, but they should suffer from debilitating radiation sickness before they get too far away, so at least the leak would be somewhat contained.

Interesting story idea for a post-apocalyptic agrarian society where some guy wipes out his rival's towns by lightly burying preapocalyptic nuclear waste in the town square to kill off the inhabitants while preaching about curses and gods smiting the inhabitants for their sins.

Yeah time was meant more as just an illustration of how careful we have to be with and pictographic warnings because of how little we can take for granted about the people we are trying to warn.

Right. If you're assuming written language will have entirely changed, barring some earth-wide catastrophe we can (likely) assume a future civilization will understand the IDEA of radiation - making the actual danger and representation of radiation the most important element to communicate.

"This is where you get poison rocks to put in the rivers of enemies."

Why not exploit human evolutionary psychology for the task? A lawnmower warning label would communicate more to future civilizations than a poem translated in several dozen languages. (https://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/VJYAAOSw~xlaqj-d/s-l1600.jpg)

Gory imagery always gets the job done.

Except it doesn't, also because of psychology.

The ancient Egyptians learned this the hard way. Many of their tombs were marked with graphic warnings threatening anyone who disturbed them with various horrible ends. But most of them were robbed regardless, and those that weren't were eventually cracked open by 19th and 20th century archaeologists.

That wasn't because the people violating those tombs didn't understand the warnings (the archaeologists certainly did). It was for two reasons:

1. Some people, like the archaeologists, are going to read the warnings and dismiss them as dumb ancient superstitions; and

2. Other people, like ancient grave robbers, are going to read the warnings and think "Huh. They really want me to stay out of that place. There must be something really valuable in there!"

I wonder if Indiana-Jones-style death traps would successfully show trespassers that the site's builders were serious, or if this would only attract more curiosity.

Most of the best traps can only be sprung once, or at most a few times. So you get the first trespasser, but everyone after that just walks over it.

And honestly, Indiana Jones style traps would never survive 10 years of deferred maintenance, much less 10,000 years. Even simple traps like weak floors over spike filled pits would tend to rot and collapse over the years, especially if you need to build it lightly enough that a single person can trigger it unknowingly.

The only Egyptian tombs that survived to the modern era were the ones so well hidden that nobody had managed to stumble across them.

Also not having a pile of gold at the end of the tunnel might help.

Then again, we can't really know if the future civilization will consider out spent nuclear fuel as a pretty good store of value.

the radiation is the death trap

I was thinking the same. However, the problem is not to avoid people from getting in and causing harm to themselves, but them getting the dangerous stuff out and causing harm to others who actually heeded the warnings. You'd need extremely strong radiation

If you're talking about 10,000 years in the future it may not matter so much since the radioactivity would be much less after so many half lives.

Exactly. You can't rely on the radiation itself as a deterrent.

How about actual corpses arranged so that they look as if they died violently?

Not the exact message, but definitely should give pause to anybody visiting the place in the far future.

"Somebody made that place super dangerous to get into. There must be something really valuable in there!"

I'd go the other way... Give the impression there was something really valuable in there.

Have a main chamber with a solid pedestal in the center. Then, on walls throughout the complex, depict some golden treasure that never existed resting on said pedestal using wall art.

Imagine a scavenger, with a clear vision in their head of what the chamber looks like, arriving in an empty room: "Someone must have already raided this place."

Meanwhile, the nuclear material is under that chamber.

Then don't make the place inaccessible. If you're warning people about a threat, you need to show them where the threat is, not hide it.

I suppose it's because without any context a pictogram like this could be interpreted as a letter or a symbol, not an actual warning. It's not immediately obvious looking at this that it's a human hand being stabbed. Also it doesn't convey that the thing stabbing you is invisible. And if you figure out that the stabbing thing is burried then you might want to dig it out to use as a weapon against others.

Why do we care more about people 10k years into the future than we do about the ones alive today? It's ok for pollution and wars to take lives, why isn't it ok to do so in the future?

Also, why do they assume future visitors will enter through the front door? I thought their intention was to bury the entrance and erase all signs it existed.

I believe a while ago I read a fanfiction where the characters in the story found this place. They didn't understand the warning until they all suffered from ARS.

Was it the MLP fanfiction 'The Writing on the Wall'?[0] I'm not a brony, but it's actually a really good read. It would be better if the finders are real far future preindustrial civilization though, since the ponies have access to magic and should've found out about the danger of radiation BEFORE going in, but eh.

Here's a summary from Tvtropes: >The Writing on the Wall is a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic by Horse Voice. Daring Do is asked to help in the excavation of the most ancient tomb known to ponykind - thousands of years older than the oldest known masonry, with incredible craft and skill going into the construction of the impressive edifice. Ancient text in a number of languages, all of them long since lost, is carved into every surface in one of the rooms of the structure nearest to the surface, likely some kind of curse meant to warn away would-be looters. Workers work to breach the walls below, to find the secrets of this ancient place, but perhaps they should have heeded the writing on the wall.

[0] http://www.fimfiction.net/story/42409/the-writing-on-the-wal...

Possibly, yes.

These messages were listed in succession in an art installation as part of the Amsterdam light festival. An intriguingly dark contrast to the rest of the atmosphere.

Doesn't embedding these messages into art defy their very purpose of being a warning?

That list was never intended to be literally used as a warning - think of it as a set of acceptance criteria against which any plan to mark a nuclear waste disposal site must be judged. It needs to communicate those things, unambiguously, across time and culture, for 10000 years.

These messages aren't currently used as warnings, and exhibiting them as art will never diminish the literal message that they convey.

I am just thinking that, if future archeologists discover these warnings / language in frequent association with art, then they will probably not think twice about excavating an actual nuclear disposal site that exhibits them. They will probably think that the warnings were placed there to scare away thieves.

The warnings will not be in English.

I find that irresistible. I want to go check it out!

As if Cesaer, Napoleon, Adolf, Stalin, Atilia, or Ghengis would not immediately rip that open and force slaves/captives to carry it into enemy camps and armies.

Guys, it's not the waste that's the problem here.

99 Percent Invisible has a great episode[1] discussing exactly this kind of facility in New Mexico and the consternation it caused for a committee of some of the greatest minds of the 20th century that was tasked with attempting to write the perfect 10,000 year message.

My favorite part: "Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these “ray cats,” the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away."

The chosen folklore was a song about ray kitties changing color... If you listen to the episode you'll get to hear it in all its glory.

[1] https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/ten-thousand-years/

>Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems.

I'm not sure if I agree with this. I think that there is a ludicrous amount of survivorship bias at play with culture. How much do we know about ancient Egypt through culture and not the writings and structures that were left behind? How much do we know about some of the European cultures from ancient times? We really don't know much about ancient Estonia or Finland. We do know a lot about other ancient cultures, but that's because they dominated and continued to dominate for a long time. If our civilization dies off to the degree that people can't decipher simple messages about the danger of radiation, then I think that the cultural aspect of it has died too.

Edit: I understand that writings are culture, but I'm talking about cultural practices or values.

Here are some examples that make me give the idea a little credence -

To this day, despite over 1000 years of Christianity, Russian people continue to uphold some superstitions (and, in the case of 'Maslenitsa'[1], holidays) that trace their origin to pagan pre-Kievan Rus'. Strange phenomenons that never found an adoption by the Orthodox church, e.g. that each house possesses its own spirit ('Domovoy'[2]), and that you best remember him and ask for good luck and protection when you leave for a long trip by looking in the mirror and sitting still, in silence, for a few minutes right before you depart. Fail to do so and you have no one to blame but yourself when you return to find it burglarized..! (Or so my immediate family sternly lectured me)

Actually, here we have a fairly ancient holiday, too - Valentine's day's origin can trace itself to when the Romans decided to rebrand the fertility festival Lupercalia, keeping the message (a day devoted to romance) the same, but putting a stop to revelers beating each other with skinned dogs and copulating in the streets.[3]

My point is that while we may forget why we do certain rituals or superstitions, our cultural memes are often imprinted onto us for hundreds of years or more (think weddings!), provided that our culture has descendants to carry the tales. So this makes Bastide and Fabbri's idea not so outlandish. However, it's very difficult to control what cultural memes stick and which ones die - sometimes, it's pure randomness. I guess these folks were betting on the slim chance of the song being so ludicrous and catchy, that it will just have to be told over and over for generations...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslenitsa [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domovoy [3] https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/lupercalia

There's evidence that a story passed down orally for up to 30k years was true:


The project's president has said that no symbols at all might be better than any universal warning symbol they could hope to produce, such as a skull and crossbones. Leaving the site unmarked could be less likely to encourage investigation and disturbance of it in the future.


That makes more sense to me. It’s not like these waste canisters are going to somehow float to the surface. The biggest problem would have to be sealing the entrance and descending tunnels in such a way to keep the site hidden. Is that possible? If you could do that then the only danger would be a sufficiently advanced culture for some reason trying to drill or dig in that area. And why would they do that if the geology of the area isn’t one which would lead them to expect minerals. Fast forward any further and they’re only going to discover it with some kind of ground penetrating radar which indicates a pretty sophisticated society.

According to the Wikipedia article above:

>The Onkalo repository is expected to be large enough to accept canisters of spent fuel for around one hundred years, i.e. until around 2120.[10] At this point, the final encapsulation and burial will take place, and the access tunnel will be backfilled and sealed.

So they're already planning to fill the tunnels completely. Considering the depth of the main facility, I would think this will make it very difficult for a primitive civilization to reach the facility even if they found the former entrance and wanted to investigate.

I don't know about the one in Finland, but the one in New Mexico is in the Permian Basin[1]. There are oil and gas resources all over the place. There are also Potash mines right next to the New Mexico facility (and it itself is a salt mine). Leaving it unmarked poses a real risk that someone someone will drill or dig into it accidentally looking for resources.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian_Basin_(North_America)

”And why would they do that if the geology of the area isn’t one which would lead them to expect minerals.”

Any significant structure would introduce a gravitational and/or magnetic anomaly. Given that, keeping the structures as small as possible seems the way to go, but of course, you also want to contain the waste for thousands of years.

On the other hand, one could hope that anybody who can detect such anomalies knows about radiation, too.

Wouldn’t the best option in planning for regression be making it inaccessible and unreachable—really hard to get to without technology?

Once people have technology back, then presumably they’d be able to detect radiation and avoid the contaminated location?

In 100000 years the biggest threat is probably glaciation submerging very large areas of Finland.

Personally, I think you make it as dangerous as possible. So rather than shielding the waste, make it deadly in a matter of hours or minutes.

This won't prevent people from trying to extract the contents, but it should prevent them for succeeding. I think a few dead grave robbers / explorers is preferable to the waste being extracted and sold back to civilization.

It has to go from safe to deadly very quickly so that people can more easily connect the dots too.

People were trying to find a way through the artic from the 16th century, 400 years before the first Geiger–Müller tube was made.

I was thinking more along the lines of burying it deep under an inactive seabed. We’d have a hard time now digging things up. We aren’t even able to do simple floor mining well.

I imagine the sea is extremely hard to work in and salt water is very corrosive.

>what symbols you should put on a door to discourage someone in future to opening the door.

Vaguely reminds me a bit of the curses egyptians wrote in the entrances of the Pharaoh's tombs. Basically cursing trespassers for life. This is a realer version of that. Deeply interesting.

That's what I was thinking with the "This is not a place of honor" quote - I mean the curses and promises of deadly diseases, seals, etc didn't keep the archeologists out, they only made them more intrigued. Were they able to read the warnings before entering? Not sure if they had decoded the language yet at that time.

Anyway, place a big red button with a "DO NOT PRESS" sign on it and inevitably someone will press it. I think for nuclear waste the best option is to hide it somewhere nobody will ever find it - miles under the earth, like gold mines, then line the tunnels with explosives and seal it off.

Of course, that wouldn't stop a future generation from accidentally drilling into it by accident while looking for gold.

Into Eternity is my favorite hard sci-fi video so far. It's such a simple and tangible question but so difficult to answer.

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