Jun 19, 2006

How to Keep Something Safe for Ten Thousand Years

WIPP plans to store nuclear waste for 10,000 years with obvious markers and multi-language warnings. Hiding nuclear waste in plain sight is a bad idea, and here's why.

Physical barriers and written warnings have never deterred a single excavation — by looters nor archaeologists. Obstacles imply reward while ancient writings are unlikely to be understood, much less heeded.

Many ancient languages such as Indus script from 3500-1900 BC are undeciphered.

Written Warnings Have Never Worked

Written warnings need to be understood before they can either be honored or ignored, and languages mutate and die over time. As yet, no known language has withstood 10,000 years. Egyptian hieroglyphics were undecipherable without the Rosetta Stone, and how many potential gravesite looters of European descent in 2006 could decipher a blurb of Latin less than 1,600 years after the collapse of the largest European empire in history?

Spectacle Invites Visitors

The grander the site the more an individual perceives his potential gain by exploring and plundering the site; surely a civilization advanced enough to construct such a thing must have had it better than I, and perhaps they've left some treasure behind? The grandest sites from dead civilizations are the most disturbed. The pyramids of Giza are so excavated that many of their artifacts have ended up half a world away in The British Museum and the Louvre — indeed, Europeans have made a habit of decorating their cities with plundered Egyptian obelisks. Why wouldn't we expect drums of Plutonium-239 to be exported as trophies for a future regime?

Hypothetically speaking, if the ancient Egyptians had nuclear capability that was subsequently lost with their civilization and their pyramids were waste repository markers — dangerously radioactive artifacts would have had plenty of time to spread far and wide by the time we learned to read hieroglyphics and discovered the existence (and dangers) of radiation[12].


  1. Every site that has ever been discovered has been explored.
  2. No warning has ever prevented an excavation.
  3. Therefore in order to prevent excavation a site must never be found.

The logical conclusion is NOT to model a repository of radioactive waste after the known ancient sites that have withstood the test of time. The vast majority of these sites have been plundered long before modern discovery, and many of the oldest sites are very poorly understood at even the most fundamental levels.

The best solution for nuclear waste is to leave as little as possible by reprocessing nuclear waste. Where that is not possible: hide it away. No berms, no pyramids, no buildings. No warnings or markers. Fill it up, fill it in and cover it up. I urge the WIPP to resist the temptation of building a temple to the Gods of fission.


  1. Permanent Markers Implementation Plan pdf, United States Department of Energy Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Aug 19 2004
  2. How Will Future Generations Be Warned? pdf, U.S. Dept. of Energy, W.I.P.P.
  3. Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant pdf Kathleen M. Trauth, Stephen C. Hera, Robert V. Guzowsti SANDIA REPORT SAND92-1382 l UC-721 November 1993
  4. Excerpts from Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Sandia National Laboratories report SAND92-1382 / UC-721, p. F-49
  5. An Alert Unlike Any Other, Charles Piller, L.A. Times, May 3 2006
  6. Danger! Do NOT Dig Here, Christopher Pollon, Archeology.org, Vol. 55 #3, May/June 2002
  7. DEEP TIME, Gregory Benford, 2000
  8. Curse of the pharoahs: Tomb Curses, Wikipedia
  9. Dynamiting and destruction of the Buddahs of Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001, Wikipedia
  10. Book burning, Wikipedia
  11. Into Eternity, a documentary film about the Onkalo Waste Repository
  12. A little thought experiment re: This Place is Not a Place of Honor, by Frantactical Fruke
  13. This is Not a Place of Honor, Damn Interesting
  14. Symbols of Time and Death, SymbolDictionary.net
  15. Theories about Stonehenge, Wikipedia
  16. Obelisk, Egyptian, Wikipedia


Ryan Flynn is a programmer and problem solver.