On BLDGBLOG, I read a long and fascinating interview yesterday with one of the engineers on the Yucca Mountain project. The interview is matter-of-fact, not political, but it’s really interesting. I learned that Yucca Mountain is being built to a standard of a MILLION YEARS, which brings up all sorts of issues: How do you even label something for that kind of future? As the interviewee says,

We have looked very closely at what WIPP is doing—the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. They did a study with futurists and other people—sociologists and language specialists. They decided to come up with markers in seven languages, basically like a Rosetta Stone, with the idea that there will always be someone in the world who studies ancient languages, even 10,000 years from now, someone who will be able to resurrect what the meanings of these stelae are. They will basically say, “This is not a place of honor, don’t dig here, this is not good material,” etc.

[…] Of course, there’s also a little bit of fun involved here: what is the dominant species going to be in 10,000 years? And can you really mark something for a million years? What we have looked at, basically, is marking things for at least 10,000 years—and hopefully it will last even longer. And if this information is important to whatever societies are around at that time, if they have any intelligence at all, they will renew these monuments.

I love it when science seems more like science fiction, like the Large Hadron Collider going back in time to prevent itself from ever being made. Doesn’t the modern-day Rosetta Stone sound a good construct for a sci-fi story?

(I was also struck by this engineer’s optimism–because I have my doubts about whether anything will be around in 10,000 years.)