Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Message Into Eternity

    I am an ardent science fiction fan. I especially enjoy post-apocalyptic stories like the original Planet of the Apes film series. Much of my fascination of thee types of stories comes from two major influence growing up. One, my formative year coincided with the waning days of the Cold War when it still appeared the United States and Soviet Union might still fight a devastating nuclear war. Without a defense other than Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), who would not live with the fear in the back of their minds? The second was attended a strict, Bob Jones University influenced Christian obsessed with End Times prophecy. When your teacher are openly speculating which world leader currently in the news is the Antichrist, it is bound to leave an impact on your psyche.
       At least I found something at semi-constructive to with those emotional hang ups. Not only did I develop an interest in post-apocalyptic science fiction worlds—your mileage may as vary as to how constructive it is—i also developed a ken eye for real world problems that may develop under the now less than absurd notion the human race might actually survive into the distant future. Yes, folks. I do occasionally cast aside my cynicism and look for solutions instead.
      With this in mind, a recent discussion on the problem of the long-term storage of nuclear waste caught my eye. Nuclear waste must be carefully stored until it decays enough to no longer be dangerously radioactive. The process could take as long as 100,000 year. Safe storage is obviously a problem, but so is communicating with human 100,000 years from now not to open the contents of the storage unit. One-hundred thousand years ago would put us in the neolithic period. Imagine someone from that era leaving a message for us. How would we understand it? If we did understand the warning, would we take it seriously or consider it a superstitious curiosity for the anthropologists to ponder?
     It is doubtful any current language would be readily understandable in 100,000 years. Perhaps a universal symbol could be used? We are are going into uncharted territory there. The oldest man made structures on Earth are 10,000 years old. The pyramids are 5,000 years old. Much information can be lost in 100,000 years, particularly if, even if mankind survives, it suffers catastrophic wars and natural disasters in the interim.
       So what is the solution? For now, nuclear waste I being stored as safely as possible as long as possible with the best contemporary security and warnings available. There is always the possibility an economically feasible method of converting nuclear waste into a power source will be developed. Time—literally—will tell.

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