Re: [LEAPSECS] how posterity will measure time

From: Zefram <>
Date: Tue, 5 Dec 2006 01:11:23 +0000

Rob Seaman wrote:
> One imagines the
>corpses of previous diggers will serve as an even better warning sign
>for the successive neolithic survivors of repeated discontinuities.

One of the difficult bits about labelling WIPP is that the danger isn't
of that form. It's low-level waste, so even going down to storage level
and standing in the tunnel for an hour won't cause people to die on site.
The main risk is of cancer, in the event that water sources get polluted.
It's slow acting and difficult to detect. It's easy to think that the
warning has turned out to be false. Worse (from this point of view),
pretty much any activity on the surface and the top few metres of
soil is safe. People can live there, farm there, without any risk of
contamination. Rather undermines the "don't come in here, don't dig"

Some serious philosophical work went in to deciding what kind of warning
to give. It's easy to overstate the danger, but in the end that's
counterproductive. Planting corpses, or otherwise warning of instant
death to those who enter, would undermine the whole message, because it
would be quickly debunked. Leaving the site unlabelled was ruled out for
other reasons. They also decided not to impede deliberate intrusion,
for several intersecting reasons. The decision was to mark the site,
satisfy curiosity about what's in it, and give a truthful warning about
the degree and nature of the danger posed. Careful wording (in seven
languages) is the order of the day.

>The PP in WIPP stand for Pilot Project. The point of a pilot project
>is to teach something to current engineers, archeologists and other
>scientists, the public, and maybe, just maybe ? to a few politicians.

A couple of centuries down the line, a generation inheriting a dozen of
these behemoths from the (relatively) distant past will be made to stop
and think. One hopes.

>I'd vote, myself, for using a subduction zone for this purpose,

That was, of course, considered. ISTR there was concern about the
unpredictability. With stable geological storage you know what you're

>although having a goal of launching our waste into the Sun

Far too risky, at least while we're still using chemical rockets for
the first megametre. The space elevator might reduce the near-Earth
risks adequately, but I don't think getting rid of waste is sufficient
incentive for *that* project.

Received on Mon Dec 04 2006 - 17:58:43 PST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Sat Sep 04 2010 - 09:44:55 PDT