1/3/17 Show feat. Jacob Schwartz on nuclear waste and sending warnings to future civilizations


Featured image: The Vaalputs nuclear waste site in South Africa, guarded (for the present) with fences and signposts. Can this strategy ward off the next 10,000 years of civilization? (Courtesy Mail & Guardian)

This week features Jacob Schwartz, a PhD candidate in plasma physics here at Princeton, who brings us a deep concern: what should we do with our nuclear waste? Fission plants produce radioactive byproducts over time, and these concoctions will be dangerous to life for millennia. At the WIPP facility in New Mexico, scientists are testing many methods for safe storage of radioactive materials. Even more intriguingly, reports from WIPP contemplate strategies for warding off future civilizations, communicating across the centuries that an area is unhealthy to inhabit. How can we send messages on the timescales of the pyramids? How far do duty or ethics push us to confine our nuclear waste?

Elsewhere in the show, we cover the geology of northern Iraq and the dangers it poses to a dam near Mosul. Plus, look forward to a scientific 2017 with epigenetics, artificial intelligence and biometric identification. Throughout you can enjoy lots of jazz, blues, and music from Western Africa.

Resources to enjoy:

  • The full, 350-page Sandia report on waste storage at WIPP is easily accessible online.
  • The “Ten Thousand Years” episode of the 99% Invisible podcast covers the same topic of WIPP’s nuclear containment, but with relevant music!
  • Official reports on the Mosul dam’s condition are raising concerns that gypsum under a dam could endanger millions of people.
  • Artificial intelligence may boom in 2017, but it also poses risks we ought to be aware of.
  • The Long Now Foundation, which includes Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, is also interested in communicating with the future, but by means of building a durable mountaintop clock.
  • The Ray Cat Solution says that if we can’t convince people to avoid nuclear waste with signs, we could do it with mythology and genetically-engineered color-changing cats.
  • A documentary Into Eternity explains Finnish strategies on the waste storage problem, and another film Containment goes into much more detail about WIPP.

The playlist can be found on WPRB.com or below.


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