WIPP by Melissa Deerson
In a place called Loving, in New Mexico, there’s a nuclear waste dump – a set of huge caverns sunk into 250 million year old rock salt. dry and unmoving, it is a nice safe crystalline tomb. Trucks come and drop off giant barrels full of radioactive waste, most of which consists of human-sized things: contaminated gloves, mop-heads, paper towels, overalls and tools, although some of it is sludge and soil.
One day these holes will be full, and they’ll be sealed up. They’ll start a 10 000 year transformation until finally, one day, all the waste will stop radiating and will be safe again.
The US government has thought long and hard about this tip. It commissioned a report and got a lot of people to think about sending a message into the future:
“something manmade is here”.
“something manmade is here and it is dangerous”.
DO NOT DIG.
A physicist wondered if the markers were necessary. The clearest message of all was the poisonous waste itself. People who disturb the area will get sick and die, their families and animals will move away. He was right, but that was not the point. Others wanted to build something so large and impressive that future people would be in awe of it, would revere it and would not want to disturb it. Pyramids were mentioned.
They made diagrams of the strata of the earth that the waste sat in, from the bottom up:
BELL CANYON FORMATION CASTILE FORMATION MCNUTT POTASH ZONE (repository level) SALADO FORMATION RUSTLER FORMATION containing UNNAMED, CULEBRA, TAMARISK, MAGENTA, FORTY NINER DEWEY LAKE RED BEDS
Like constellations you pass on your way to another galaxy.
They thought about communication, civilisations rising and falling, language changing, symbols losing their meaning. They drew pictures of sickened faces and skulls and crossbones and Munch’s ‘The Scream’, and talked about ‘menacing earthworks’ – pointy, unwelcoming.
They used the stars for navigation. When the Big Dipper looks like this (constellations slowly remoulding themselves over time as the earth’s path changes) you’ll know that everything is safe again. Look at Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus and Vega, the brightest stars you can see. Their positions will tell you how long there is to go.
When the time comes and there is no more room for deliveries, they will build earthworks, plant stones, satellite reflectors and magnets, write explanations and draw pictures, and they will launch a message of anti-preciousness to the alien humans of the future. Those planning the journey called it the marking of an “un-treasure”. An un-golden voyage about hope and chance and futility and redundancy and the idea that something will actually be there to find the message, and it will be a bit like us.
Melissa Deerson is an interdisciplinary artist and writer whose work explores the blurry boundaries between human and non-human domains.
Online she can be found at www.melissadeerson.com and meldeerson.tumblr.com.