Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art is challenging artists to design a universal warning sign that will deter our many-times-great-grandchildren from entering a nuclear waste dump site.
How do you create a warning system to prevent an accidental unearthing of 200 million pounds of radioactive nuclear waste? A simple sign, some chain link and a military post, might work today. But what about 10,000 years from now? In 2002 the U.S. Department of Energy brought together engineers, archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists and asked them this question. What type of warning system can be put in place so people, 370 generations from now, won’t open the glowing door?
What they came up with is hardly inspiring: a large earthen mound with a salt core and two identical Dr. Strangelove-esque control rooms with a warning message written in the six official languages of the U.N. and Navajo. Construction of this Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is scheduled to begin in less than three years.
What if an artist designed the system?
Of course, “architects, cartoonists, computer engineers, graphic designers and scientists” can also submit proposals.
There was a similar competition held years ago. The project site was the (now cancelled) nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain. Of the proposals, we wrote that none of them will keep people away.
Build a field of menacing concrete spikes, and it becomes a popular destination. CLUI will send busloads of tourists.
What should be done in the intervening thousands of year is to develop an anti-radiation pill or the fast-acting anti-tumor pill, so that with these miraculous medical breakthroughs, future travelers will go on so-called radiation tours.
As you walk through the excavated labyrinth of Yucca Mountain, you become listless, nauseous. Going deeper and deeper into the caverns — damp, mildewed surfaces; stale air; pyramids of light falling heavily on your weakening body — you begin to have what will become the worst migraine of your life.
Then your hair falls off.
Others in your group had taken a different path and are now suffering from beta burns. Still others, on a different scenic route, are vomiting every few steps, their nose bleeding.
But obviously, all is well; you've taken the pills. Radiation poisoning is as safe as a Disney ride or a stroll through the park.
As a souvenir you can buy a wig at the gift shop.
It's the national park of the future.