“This place is not a place of honor”

“If you look at it just right, the universal radiation warning symbol looks a bit like an angel. The circle in the middle could indicate the head, the lower part might be the body, and the upper two arms of the trefoil could represent the wings. Looking at it another way, one might see it as a wheel, a triangular boomerang, a circular saw blade, or any number of relatively benign objects. Whatever a person’s first impression of it may be, someone unfamiliar with the symbol probably wouldn’t guess that it means “Danger! These rocks shoot death rays!”

“The U.S. Department of Energy has been grappling with that problem recently, as they designed the warning markers to use at Yucca Mountain and at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) nuclear waste storage facilities. There’s no telling who might be around to exhume our radioactive sins in future centuries, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that warnings be erected which will warn away potential intruders for the next 10,000 years, whomever those intruders may be.

“The offending nuclear waste will be stored far underground at each of these facilities, but there is still a danger that future generations might stumble across it. WIPP is located in the desert outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, and its storage areas are located 2,150 feet underground. Yucca Mountain’s facilities in the Nevada desert are intended to house waste at 1,000 feet deep. Between the two, they are meant to entomb tens of thousands of metric tons of nuclear waste, most of which will remain dangerous for centuries. Each of these locations was selected due to its relative geologic stability, theoretically allowing facilities there to contain the waste for the required 10,000 years.”

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