The art of the 10,000-year warning

August 6, 2020, 3:46PMAround the Web

How to warn future generations to the location of buried long-lived radioactive waste has been debated for decades. Everything from massive obelisks inscribed with ominous warnings and fields of concrete “thorns,” to “atomic priesthoods” and cats that change color when exposed to ionizing radiation—all are real ideas that have been proposed. Others argue, rather convincingly, whether any such warning is needed at all.

The multifaceted issue of nuclear semiotics is the subject of a recent article in the web magazine BBC Future.

The signs: The article, “How to Build a Nuclear Warning for 10,000 Years’ Time,” by Mark Piesing, looks at some of the recent efforts at developing methods of transmitting knowledge many generations into the future, including the work of the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Preservation of Records, Knowledge, and Memory (RK&M) Across Generations initiative, which published its final report in 2019.

Citing the RK&M work, Piesing’s article also discusses the role that the arts and culture can play as a systemic approach to memorializing institutional knowledge. He writes, “Brussels-based artist and researcher Cécile Massart thinks that for signs to be future-proofed they need to be part of ‘a nuclear culture, with its own monuments, markers, and rituals. At the moment there is only really the radioactive symbol.’”

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