​​​​How do we teach people we do not know about dangers that they do not understand?
 
This is the issue faced by the scientists who deal with the storage and disposal of Nuclear waste and hazardous materials. Despite it’s flaws, deep geological storage is considered to be the best way we have to deal with the millions of tonnes of high level radioactive waste on Earth. However, scientists estimate that the materials will still be dangerous for 10,000 years after being buried which raises an important issue:
How do we warn people in the far future about these dangers?
My project looked into solving this problem. I tasked myself with creating a message that would last 10,000 years and communicate the dangers of nuclear waste.
It needed to:

 - Communicate the location of stored nuclear waste.
 - Communicate the dangers associated in clear detail.
 - Be understandable to anybody who comes across it for at least 10,000 years.
 - It must not rely on any existing language.
 - Any materials used must be suitable for purpose. 
 - The message must be self sustaining require no human maintenance.
Communicating through symbolic architecture
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My outcome took the form of a large scale monument in the shape of a pyramid that would be installed on the surface above the waste site. The monolithic structure would be a significant and imposing part of the landscape that would encourage trespassers to consider the significance of what it might represent. It would be produced from local granite which is hard enough to last 10,000 years but cheap and freely and available to prevent vandalism. On one side, engraved onto the surface, would be the trefoil symbol for radioactivity and on each the other three, 10,000 lines would be etched to symbolise each year that the waste will be dangerous. 
Although we can’t rely on people in the future understanding the exact meaning of the trefoil, making it a key part of the architecture will ensure that the symbol will last. Inside the pyramid would be a chamber containing information and warnings in a pictorial form. If intrepid explorers make their way inside the pyramid, we can use messaging to re-code the meaning of the trefoil for people who come across it and ensure that it is linked with danger. As long as people understand not to dig under the pyramid, it will have done it’s job.
Messages made to be valued
The main component inside the pyramid would be this coin, designed to be cast in gold and have a 1m radius, would have two scenes etched onto opposing sides. One scene would depict the pyramid in an ideal world - one where the pyramid is left untouched and everybody remains safe. The other side illustrates a hole dug under the pyramid and the effects of the radiation leaking out. The people and animals are now dead and the river is contaminated. The illustration is designed to be understandable to anybody who is reading it. The frame is a circle because it eliminates direction from the image - if it was rectangular, some cultures would read it chronologically from left to right. Additionally, instead of a sequential series of images depicting cause and effect, the coin communicates as two separate scenes and it is left to the viewer to find the relationship between the two.
Although the rest of the temple is designed to be cheap in order to prevent vandalism, the coin is intended to be stolen. If found in the future, it would likely be seen as a significant cultural artefact and put in a museum and studied. Doing so would raise awareness of it’s message and further ensure that people understand the meaning of the trefoil into the future.
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