Monday, March 22, 1999

Expert ponders ways to warn future residents about nuclear waste dumps

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Buried nuclear waste could affect society's health a million years from now, but how to warn future generations may be difficult, a nuclear waste expert said.

Anyone uncovering a dump may not understand the warning signs because languages could change, said Randy Hanson of the Rice Center for Science and Technology.

"It is not clear whether we want to attract or deter people," he said during a nuclear waste seminar at the University of Wyoming.

Some experts suggest building symbolic monuments or a field of enormous spikes. Others propose a visitors' site with information about the dump and a periodic table of the elements.

Such ideas are included in a report by nuclear waste experts on ways to mark the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico.

Although local activists continue to fight the facility, the plant will probably become the permanent burial grounds for transuranic waste, Hanson said.

Most ideas for warning signs include providing a map of the earth marking all of the world's nuclear storage sites. Some suggest an underground chamber that would contain further warnings and information to anyone digging at a dump.

But current science and technology may not be able to provide the long-term solutions people want, Hanson said.

"We are trusting that the monuments themselves will transfer the information, and I have grave doubts about that," he said.

"Active stewardship" is necessary to clean up contaminated sites and find better ways to safely store nuclear waste, he said.

Coping with waste that could remain dangerous for more than a million years forces society to grapple with these issues, he said.

"With nuclear waste, we have to," he said. "There's no alternative."