CHAPTER NINE: IMAGINARY VALUES
6. A CUBE OF SALT
NUCLEAR WASTE BOXES
THE ARROWS OF PHILOCTETES
6. A CUBE OF
Whether or not Duchamp was aware of the alchemical associations between salt and alchemy, editor Michel Sanouillet capitalized on a French pun with his name in the anagrammatic title of the collected writings by Marcel Duchamp as Marchand du Sel. This phrase means "salt seller" in French, the phrase that was used for the title of Elmer Peterson's translation of the book into English. Counting our way back out from the Void to view With Hidden Noise in its aspect of wholeness, the quality of "sixness" suggests returning to the basic idea of the cube--the gross shape of the space occupied by the sculpture. This calls to mind the primary product of the salt seller: the cubic crystal of sodium chloride, ordinary table salt.
Around the turn of the century down in Old Mexico, the Federales --by capitalizing on the real need that human beings have for salt--eventually prevailed over the Huichols, who had hitherto been able to maintain their freedom and independence, even from the Aztecs. Troops of the Mexican government, unable to outfight the natives on Huichol home territory, the Sierra Madre and the high central desert, blocked them off from their ritual trips to the Pacific coast near San Blas, which they made to secure life-sustaining salt from the sea.
Salt has long been a valued item of trade in caravans of the African desert, too. For example, the Afar people--as they call themselves, or the Danakil as they are known to others--historically have controlled access to the important salt mining sites in Eritrea, that recently very troubled region in what was once known as north- eastern Ethiopia. The Danakil Depression, where the salt is found, is one of the most fiercely hot and dry places in the world. Owing to the utter scarcity of water, anyone not identified either as a tribal member or a distinguished invited guest--so the story goes, hard to believe though it may be--risks being shot on sight. This is not from any sheer viciousness, nor because of the intense and lengthy civil war in the area, but for harshly objective reasons: because not to do so would mean that, in order to preserve life for the rest of that day, that person would necessarily have to drink some of the meager total water available, jeopardizing survival for all native inhabitants.
The tragedy of Eritrea--the beautiful music of its native people notwithstanding--is widespread and abiding. Recent media attention has focussed on the brutal impact of draught, famine, disease and death. Since the collapse of the oppressive central government in 1991, and finally, with the end of open hostilities and civil war, the enormous task of dealing with overpopulation, disease, starvation, and ravaged resources remains. The reader "interested in widening his tunnel vision and educating himself in understanding why Ethiopia cannot feed its people" is invited to contemplate the following observations of a native Eritrean:
The -year-old war in Eritrea. Overpopulation, deforestation or the movement of deserts might have [made] a slight contribution. But it is this disastrous war that has sapped the energy and will of the Eritrean people and crippled and ruined the resources of successive Ethiopian governments. As in all wars, of course, the superpowers played a hand. In this case the U.S. through the then Secretary of State Dulles played a dirty game in 1948-52 in denying the Eritrean people their independence and creating a ramshackle federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It was a dirty federation that was designed to fail. Dulles' intent was only to win the continued use of the U.S. base in Eritrea. Soviet Military Aid: In...13 years [1975-88] the Ethiopian Marxist government is reported to have received $4 billion worth of military aid. This to an impoverished country. This irresponsible aid has created a non-conciliatory central government that has no interest in sharing power with the diverse ethnic groups of the country. So much so that various liberation movements have been created in the different provinces demanding self determination for their peoples.
[Berhanu Metaferia, letter to the Editors, San Francisco Chronicle (January 13, 1988). That central government has since fallen.]
Refusal to pay a tax on salt became the signal for Ghandi's eventually successful rebellion against British rule in India. And salt figures to have ecological (hence, also political) consequences from such an apparently innocuous activity as the use of salt-fired kilns by ceramicists. The danger of atmospheric pollution comes from the extremely toxic chlorine gas released by the process. This is not just a problem for studio pottery, such as that based on traditions from medieval England, because similar methods are used for firing large scale industrial kilns that produce, for example, sewer pipes.
The release of chlorine, chloroflurocarbons (CFCs)--and, more recently, related halons, HFCs and HCFCs--into the atmosphere during the last short aion has precipitated a crisis of dire peril because such gasses (especially chlorine monoxide) lead to the destruction of the ozone layer--some thirty miles up--which protects living organisms from fatal levels of solar ultraviolet-B radiation. Scientists have already observed adverse effects on phytoplankton, at the base of the oceanic pyramid of life, with reduced productivity and alteration of genetic material thus massively affecting the problem of global warming by inhibiting the ability of plants to photosynthesize carbon dioxide so as to transform it into oxygen. Sensitive coral reefs and similar whole ecosystems are also believed to be dying off as a consequence of higher sea temperatures and increased levels of UV-B radiation from depletion of the ozone layer. Human susceptibility to an increasing number of melanomas and other skin cancers, and to vision problems including cataracts, are now monitored apprehensively.
Behind these threats, the attempts to hide information (and to corrupt the processes of scientific research) are equally disturbing. Scientists and the corporate officers of Du Pont, ICI and Hoechst, the major producers of CFCs, have known about these destructive effects since 1974. Their response fabricated an elaborate strategy to deny laboratory and field evidence, abetted by a deceptive public relations campaign (and hefty political contributions), while attempting to discredit now-proven research linking CFCs to ozone depletion.
Du Pont began in 1802 as a war profiteer, selling gunpowder for use in domestic and foreign wars. Since that time it has gained a reputation for poisoning workers, at home and abroad, while escalating its involvement in the manufacture of toxic and deadly products. Each year, Du Pont injects more that 250 million pounds of toxic waste into underground waste facilities. And it has emitted vast amounts of airborne toxics through incineration of hazardous substances....It also owned the Savannah River nuclear weapons plant and according to recent news reports, sold materials to Iraq for Iraq's covert nuclear weapons program.
Not only was Du Pont the leading industrial polluter in the U.S. in 1989, according to the EPA, but it can now assume a similarly ignominious title on the international scene--as the number one destroyer of the ozone layer. As the inventor and the world's largest producer of CFCs, Du Pont's worst offense to date is the ongoing production of CFCs despite evidence that the substances are rapidly destroying the ozone layer, and, thereby, threatening life on Earth.
["Losing Our Skin: The Earth's Vanishing Ozone Layer," Greenpeace: A Quarterly Publication Dedicated to Building Environmental Awareness and Activism (April-May-June, 1992), p. 1 f.]
Together with Allied Signal, the Du Pont corporation manipulated the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, allowing continued production of CFCs--which was, indeed, expanded by construction of new plants in the Third World. Faced with an eventual decline in the CFC market, exclusive use of "alternative" chemicals (HFCs and HCFCs) was allowed, but only after Du Pont's patent on them was securely established. Even so, these new substances may be three to five times more dangerous as ozone destroyers than Du Pont would have the world believe, as "informed" through the paid guile of Young and Rubicam, a public relations agenciy among the world's largest.
On July 12, 1991, a Du Pont manager wrote to EPA officials seeking a letter of recommendation nominating Du Pont for a President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award in recognition of its work to "protect the ozone layer." Du Pont's manager for flourochemicals, F. A. Vogelsberg, suggested the EPA recommend Du Pont with the following language: "Du Pont's bold moves set goals that helped move the national and international CFC phaseout process faster than many believed possible." It must have sounded convincing to the Bush EPA, for Du Pont indeed received the award.
[Greenpeace, p. 3. Printed on chlorine-free paper, Greenpeace is available from 1436 U Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.]
NUCLEAR WASTE BOXES
It is in the salt domes beneath the Earth that some of our contemporaries contemplate placing the most dangerous, toxic, radioactive substances humanity has yet generated: the plutonium (made by misdirected scientists induced or coerced into serving military technology), and the other radioactive wastes produced by nuclear power plants. We mention this issue in order to provide a realistic context within which to consider important issues of hidden stuff and secrets in general. No one has solved the problem of radioactive waste disposal. Responsible individuals and groups addressing the issue--certainly one of the major projects warranting reasoned action by mankind--so far have achieved but very slight success in focussing intelligence upon the dilemmas presented by hazardous waste.
[See, Isaac Asimov, "Are Salt Mines Safe for Nuclear Waste," San Francisco Chronicle (June 24, 1987, via the Los Angeles Times).]
As for the attempts by the Fourth Estate to focus the popular intelligence, the May 11, 1992 issue of Time magazine featured a story in its new "Environment" section with a bewildering marginal precis:
The frogs and trees are radioactive, you can't catch the fish or wade in the streams, and a doctor warns of cancer risks, but that doesn't ruffle the people of Oak Ridge.
The Doctor, William Reid, was a physician who, in 1991, joined the staff of the Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge. Apparently in response to his warnings, the hospital and the Martin Marietta Corporation ("which took over management of the government's nuclear complex from Union Carbide in 1984") began disciplinary proceedings against the Doctor to thwart his investigation and force him off the staff. Similar ad hominem tactics were employed by Kerr-McGee against Karen Silkwood, and for many years by Du Pont and other corporations in ignominious attempts to discredit those individuals who would bruit secrets to warn the world of what even readers of Time may now recognize as "astounding environmental and health assaults" that for years have been hidden by a governmental "mania for secrecy."
Even the U.S. government admits the Oak Ridge labs have littered the surrounding countryside with everything from asbestos and mercury to enriched uranium. The story is much the same at all the country's now notorious nuclear weapons plants, scattered from Hanford, Wash., to Los Alamos, N.Mex., to the Savannah River plant [managed by Du Pont].
[Dick Thompson, "Living Happily Near a Nuclear Trash Heap," Time, Volume 139, No. 19 (May 11, 1992), p. 53 f.]
The most terrifying aspects of the problems we bequeath to the present generation of children, and to the posterity of all life on Earth, are suggested by the psychological and intellectual difficulties in comprehending threats of global pollution: most spectacularly perhaps by radiation that, even in lethal doses, cannot necessarily be felt right away--cool, invisible, poison fire. Has humanity, we must ask with Joanna Macy, finally created something it cannot face?
The radioactivity generated by nuclear waste every year in the United States alone--and we only have a quarter of the world's reactors--is equal to 240 times the radioactivity released by the Chernobyl disaster. And don't forget that this radiation has a hazardous life of up to 250,000 years [one of those very long aions]. Some of it, like the nickel in reactor containments, lasts for millions of years. Now statistics about wastes are misleading because of what they don't include. Everything connected with the fuel cycle and nuclear weapons production becomes radioactive. Nuclear waste is not just some byproduct; every building, every truck, every pipe, every piece of equipment every step of the way becomes not only contaminated, but contaminating. In that sense, the poison fire is almost mythic in nature.
["Guarding the Earth: An Interview with Joanna Macy," edited by Barbara Gates, Inquiring Mind -Ecology Issue (A semi-annual Journal of the Vipassana Community, Volume 7, No. 2, Spring 1991), p. 4.]
The nuclear waste containment problem involves a dedicated, quite purposeful bruiting of the "secret"--i.e., letting everyone know, in all media and by all means imaginable, without any possibility of contradiction, in no uncertain terms, et cetera--just exactly where the most dangerous, toxic, life-threatening substances in the world have been concentrated and buried. It would constitute an unspeakable cruelty toward all future generations and unconscionable assertion of human stupidity if such "secrets" were anything BUT bruited.
This problem is just beginning to receive some attention, having been addressed by Thomas Seboek of Indiana University who worked on his study at the University of California at Berkeley, for the Department of Energy. Without a doubt, the silly little black and yellow radiation warning signs will be long forgotten in an aion. But what verbal or pictorial expressions WILL work? What new effective form of the archetypal serpent or dragon can we devise to guard the untouchable, really taboo "treasures" that are mankind's most terrible artifacts? It will take more than the traditional skull and crossbones or the international "slash" sign so recently arrived upon the threshhold of popular consciousness...because: slash across what? Life?
[See, San Francisco Chronicle (July, 1984) on Dr. Seboek's project.]
James Acord, Jr.--a radical sculptor who has located his studio near the Hanford, Washington, nuclear reservation--is one of the first contemporary artists to incorporate this problem deliberately into his artistic vision. From the mid-1960s on, Acord has sought to express in his sculpture certain ideas of magic and alchemy, and as part of his typical working procedure, he began to include--like Arensberg and With Hidden Noise--talismans or magical objects that would become, quite literally, an embodiment of the inner message of his work.
Just before completing each piece he would seal inside it a cache of secret items. He didn't realize then that such offerings were part of a long tradition among his colleagues in the trades--as old as the wildflower bouquets in Neolithic chalk mines and the handfuls of millet gruel left under the stones of the pyramids, and as recent as the three pennies tossed into the fountains of modern construction sites before the concrete is poured.
[Philip Schuyler, "Profiles: Moving to Richmond (James L. Acord, Jr.)," The New Yorker, (Oct. 14, 1991), p. 72 f. Part II, Oct. 21.]
The magnum opus of James Acord must be his Monstrance for a Grey Horse, an ambitious piece that actually contains radioactive material derived from Mango Red Fiesta Ware (incidentally, one of Andy Warhol's favorite collectables), encased in a stainless steel cannister ("canned!"), itself secreted within a colossal granite monument.
Well, the thing is, like it or not, we've created tons and tons--thousands of tons--of radioactive material. The waste from the Manhattan Project is still with us, out at Hanford, and, one way or another, it'll be with us for a long time. We're talking about containing radioactive materials with half-lives that exceed our written history by thousands of years--plutonium, for instance, with a half-life of about twenty-five thousand years. And now we've got to deal with it, all of us, for the very survivability of the planet....I don't want to tout my engineering skills here, but the materials I'm using can, in fact, safely contain this material, in a way in which it can be preserved and safely shielded from the outside environment....So we need to send a warning to generations yet unborn. The trouble is, we have no idea what the world will be like twenty-five thousand years from now, what people will be thinking, how they will be communicating. If we look back in the other direction, though, we do have art that dates from the Ice Age, thirty thousand years ago....Some of these sculptures and paintings still speak to us today with an eloquence that we can all respond to, I think. So art is an answer. I'm not against words and mathematics, you know, but I'm not counting on them. The language of art may be the best way we have to let people know that this is bad stuff, and they'd better keep away.
[James Acord, quoted in Schuyler, New Yorker, (Oct. 14, 1991) p. 61.]
Despite the grand tradition of freedom in the United States, the constitutionally protected rights of free speech, and the recently enacted freedom of information statutes, the official approach to the problem of radioactive storage has only countenanced treating it as something to be removed from our presence, falsely--though typically,and with typical stupidity--equating secrecy with security. Perhaps some genuinely creative spirit, following the leads of Seboek and Acord, will devise new multivalent warnings. Truly effective warnings must clearly involve senses other than the visual. Thinking in the limited terms of a poster or visual tag illustrates the self-blinding cultural biases brought to our attention decades ago by Marshall McLuhan. It also indicates a profoundly confused political leadership in one of the areas where clarity is imperative for confronting and solving these very real problems for ourselves and our posterity.
[See, Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man, University of Toronto Press (1962); and his best-seller, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Signet Book, New American Library (1964).]
The Department of Energy's plans are in terms of only 10,000 years. This is either grossly optimistic or criminally deceptive, in view of the fact that the half-life of radioactive plutonium is 25,000 years, after which "only" half of the "tons and tons" of radioactive waste will remain; and after ANOTHER 25,000 years have passed, "only" half of that will remain, and so on. If we disregard the misleading governmental time estimates, or if we even cut it in half, to consider a time span of just five thousand years--we must ask whether any future generation will still be able to read and understand clearly the warning signs that would be placed on disposal sites. This is no trivial challenge, since almost the whole of what we call modern civilization came into being a mere five thousand years ago at Sumer, although in the last five thousand years, many societies with distinct languages and institutions emerged, flowered, and disappeared again.
What certainty can we provide that our mortal warnings will be correctly, unmistakably transmitted? How are we to design a system of marking nuclear waste disposal sites that clearly warn of the unequi-vocal danger to all life forms, one that will be read and believed over the long "aions"? Whom can even the next generation of our own children trust? Asking these questions, however, we begin to unravel a long line of ethical implications involving our current collective karmic burden with respect to the future of the whole planet. Precisely because of the very long-term consequences descending from the totally unprecedented abuse of scientific knowledge that led to exploitation of nuclear energy--only in the last "short aion"--we must now prepare the way, most importantly, for an attitude of transcendental forgiveness. Otherwise, coming to grips swiftly and efficiently with this issue will be difficult and solutions even more intractable. A requisite counterpart for this ultimately compassionate attitude is an immediate fearless imperative illuminating reality and truth, and leading, forthwith, to both heightened awareness and informed action.
Most of the entities responsible for the huge global hazard of radiation, including governments, military bureaucracies, both public and privately-owned utilities, and other corporations including major nuclear contractors among the transnationals (such as General Electric and Westinghouse) continue to obfuscate the issue. In unconscionable shamelessness they belittle or persist in ignoring insidious threats to the welfare and health of the present generation of children--and to the very life of many species in posterity, in addition to our own --while dissimulating (covering up), and promulgating disinformation (lying) about the hazard. The word "hazard"--we may remind ourselves--is from the Spanish azar, an unlucky throw of the dice, and originally from the Arabic root YSR, from which scholars of that language derive words having to do with gentleness, left- handedness, and casting lots: not by dice among Arabs however, but (as in archaic China) by arrows.
THE ARROWS OF PHILOCTETES
Something really stinks. We know that a bad smell is one of the most universally effective cautionary signals. A Classical, poetic expression of this problem is poignantly illustrated by Philoctetes: his story comes to us principally from a play of that name by Sophocles and from Homer's Iliad. Philoctetes, whose name, significantly, is glossed by Robert Graves as "lover of possessions," alone knew the secret of the magic arrows of Heracles: secret weaponry prophesied to be essential for the success of the Greek cause in the Trojan War.
Philoctetes suffered unceasingly, according to one version, because of a wound from the bite of a water-snake sent by Hera. This was said to be punishment for assisting the immortal hero Heracles to kindle his funeral pyre, on Mount Oeta in Trachis, a deed which earned for Philoctetes the champion's quiver, bow, and arrows in thanks for his assistance at the apotheosis. It was such an arrow that Heracles with swaggering hubris shot into the eye of Helios, the sun. In much the same way, with the sublime--some would say blasphemous--pride of nuclear physics, and under the terrorizing rationale of military secrecy, we have aped the idea of God in creating plutonium: an element that does not occur naturally, except perhaps in a plasma state in the interior of the sun or some other, more distant star. The distress suffered by Philoctetes had the same capacity for perduring through time as the long-lingering effects of radiation: it simply would not go away. The wound of Philoctetes would not heal, of course, because it was magical; but its foul stench was real enough, and fast became insufferable to his shipboard companions.
Neither unguents nor fomentations availed, and the wound grew so noisome, and Philoctetes's groans so loud, that the army could no longer tolerate his company.
The Greeks, on their way to do battle with Troy, thus put him--protesting--ashore on the island of Lemnos, an island with vipers, an active volcano and site of the mythical forge of Hephaistos. However, toward the end of the ten-year war, the Greeks were told by an oracle that (in addition to satisfying other conditions) they could not win without the bow and arrows of Heracles. Philoctetes, as the inheritor of their magic, thus represents some one (or thing) that cannot merely be put out of the way, but must eventually be dealt with in a very special, highly conscious way. Therefore, the Greeks sent an expedition to plead for his help. The drama of this encounter emerges because Philoctetes, understandably miffed at having been abandoned for ten years in that hellish clime, preferred rather that the Greeks take him home, thank you very much. A different account provides even closer analogues to the problem of nuclear waste disposal, with an account of Philoctetes's demise that carries a chilling warning, for
he was wounded by one of Heracles's envenomed arrows. Heracles, it is said, had made him swear never to divulge the whereabouts of his buried ashes; but when the Greeks learned that Troy could not be sacked without the use of Heracles's arrows, they went in search of Philoctetes. Though at first denying all knowledge of Heracles, he ended by telling them exactly what happened on Mount Oeta; so they eagerly asked him where they might find the grave. This question he refused to answer, but they became so insistent that he went to the place, and there wordlessly stamped on the ground. Later, as he passed the grave on his way to the Trojan War, one of Heracles's arrows leaped from the quiver and pierced his foot: a warning that one must not reveal divine secrets even by a sign or hint.
[Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Penguin Books, Revised edition (1960), sections 145, 161.]
There is obviously much information--no matter how inimical it might seem--that ought to be bruited loudly, because it concerns the health and well-being of the planet. Attempts to cover up industrial disasters--all too familiar as furtive, scurrilous ploys on the part of nation-states and corporations alike to avoid potential embarrassment--always compound the damage and suffering. The notorious oil spill of the Exxon Valdez was only made worse by the wishful-thinking pose of early deniability, the slow response of clean-up operations and fatuous assertions that "Nature" might take care of the problem, thus relieving the corporation of responsibilities. Eight years after the world's worst industrial disaster (to date), when Union Carbide's pesticide plant spewed deadly poison gas over the residents of Bhopal on December 3, 1984, killing at least four thousand people, an Indian court had to order seizure of the corporation's assets in India to prevent it from selling the property in a shameful bail-out.
[This action was taken by Bhopal District Court Magistrate Gulab Sharma, hearing a criminal suit brought by the Indian government against the Union Carbide Corporation of Danbury, Connecticut; reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 1992.]
The environmental problems encountered at sites contaminated "only" by the storage of nuclear waste materials is a very long-term proposition--even when that site has been chosen as the result of careful study. It's quite another matter with nuclear disaster sites, which are, by their very nature, never conveniently located. Even after the fall of the USSR, objective information about the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl (that had been treated as secret by the former Communist government) leaked out much more slowly than the radiation hazard itself. It will take years and billions of dollars to clean up.
The U.S. Navy mistakenly thought it had solved a problem by dumping barrels of nuclear waste in the waters of the Pacific Ocean sanctuary off the Farallones Islands, adjacent to the well-traveled sea lanes of San Francisco's Golden Gate. Secret Soviet contamination of the relatively shallow Arctic Ocean, however, poses yet another kind of threat (compounding that from depletion of the ozone layer) by exposing to radiation the phytoplankton that form the base of the Arctic marine food chain.
On February 27 , Greenpeace announced that Alexander Emelyanenkov, a journalist and former member of the Supreme Soviet, had learned from official sources that 17,000 barrels of low-level radioactive waste had been dumped into the waters around the Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya. High-level nuclear waste, including 15 naval nuclear reactors--five with spent fuel still inside--were also dumped.
Greenpeace also recently uncovered information about one of the worst naval nuclear accidents in history, the 1985 explosion of a nuclear reactor aboard a submarine stationed at Chazma Bay, near Vladivostok. During a recent visit, Greenpeace found radiation levels of up to 100 times normal levels around Chazma Bay....Other disaster areas in the old USSR are well-known...the Chelyabinsk nuclear weapons production site, with its terrible history of explosions and dumping and high-level waste directly into lakes and rivers, is a vast disaster area. Sites across the former Soviet Union have been contaminated by hundreds of nuclear weapons tests. More disasters may lurk in the future. Approximately 60 nuclear submarines await decommissioning, and plans for disposal have yet to be made public.
["Green Wire: The Deluge; New Republics Waist Deep in Old Messes," Greenpeace, (April-May-June, 1992), p. 2.]
One of the more profoundly creative, wise and compassionate approaches to this nexus of problems is the Nuclear Guardianship Project, initiated in 1988 by Joanna Macy. Instead of transporting the hazardous wastes to sites for deep geologic burial--as proposed by almost all current governmental projects--special care and attention would be drawn deliberately, and purposefully, to ground-level storage sites. The exceedingly long- lasting threat then could be monitored continuously while also functioning as an unambiguous focal point of the community's reponsibility and as an extension of the concept of mindfulness, already familiar in Sufi, Buddhist, and other traditions.
[The concept of Guardianship] deftly and dramatically reverses our habitual approach to a problem by making it clear that we musn't bury what we don't like, out of sight and out of mind, whether it's radioactive waste or the truth of what's going on... Not only does radioactivity cause cancers, immune diseases, still-births, sterility, and genetic mutation, but the wastes that release this radioactivity are frightfully mismanaged....I could see how we as a society were ready to turn our faces away from the radioactive waste, as well as other horrors we didn't want to see. For me this became the big koan, the big mystery--have we finally created something that we cannot face?
[Macy, Inquiring Mind, p. 1 f.]
Official plans to hide the nation's deadly radioactive wastes have all been beseiged by technical problems, in some part because architecture, while retaining the pretensions, has lost the actual craft of designing for eternity. Indeed, who knows what may disturb the deep underground salt beds near Carlsbad, New Mexico, where the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) is projected to last 10,000 years.
But...won't the waste be radioactive for some 20 times longer, closer to 240,000 years? Why...this interest only in 10,000?
Because the [Environmental Protection Agency] regulation says so.
[Alan Burdick, "The Last Cold-War Monument: Designing the 'keep out' sign for a nuclear-waste site," Harpers (August 1992), p. 65.]