In this 99 percent invisible podcast and accompanying article, the challenges of communicating the hazards of materials that will be radioactive for the next 10,000 years are discussed. This is an interesting exercise in thinking about how to communicate the the most “universal” way possible.
This WIPP site is going to be radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, though this panel was only responsible for keeping this place sufficiently marked for humans for the next 10,000 years—thinking beyond that timeframe was thought to be impossible.
Though 10,000 years in the future is still fairly inconceivable. 10,000 years ago, the biggest new technology spreading across the planet was farming. Culturally, we share almost nothing with people alive back then. Who knows the world will look like 10,000 years from now?
The panel began by thinking about language. But language, like radioactive materials, has a half life. Beowulf, from only 1,000 years ago, is incomprehensible today.
The panel also considered symbols, which seemed like they might be more universal. A smiley face seems to have a global appeal. And face logos have already been used as warnings.