8 Images

Warning Future Humans

The cavernous mine at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the first geological lockbox for the “fiendishly toxic” detritus of nuclear weapons production - chemical sludge, plus lab gear and filters laced with radioactive plutonium. (Brian Vander Brug / LAT)
Deep down
In this 1998 photo, WIPP workers have descended 2,150 feet underground to reinforce the ceiling of the ancient salt mines. The problem, once the site is completely finished, will be warning future generations about what is buried here. (Pat Vasquez Cunningham / For the Times)
The Future
Just what those future generations may look like is a mystery that has captured the imaginations of scientists and storytellers alike. Clockwise from upper left, stills from Terminator 3, Mad Max 2, The Matrix Reloaded and The Day the Earth Stood Still()
Some warning signs, like this concrete marker in the New Mexican desert where a 3.1 kiloton nuclear device was once detonated underground, go largely ignored. This one has become a favorite targets of local marksmen. (Brian Vander Brug / LAT)
Ancient mystery
Builders of the WIPP facility face a major problem: symbols tend to lose their meaning over time. Exactly how and why Stonehenge was built, for instance, has long remained a mystery. Because the stones are aligned along the rising path of the sun at the summer solstice, some experts believe the builders came from a sun-worshiping culture. Others think the site was part of a huge astronomical calendar. (Barry Batchelor / AFP)
Clues to humanity
1972’s Pioneer 10 space probe carried this ‘greeting card’ into outer space, etched on an aluminum, gold-anodized plaque. Scientists picked images they thought would concisely represent the basics of human civilization. WIPP panelists decided not to use the science-centric plaque as a model for their signs, however, because future humans might not be able to understand its images. (AP)
Well built
The monument at WIPP will be designed to stand the test of time at least as well as the Egyptian Pyramids, which were built before the time of ultra-hard concrete. Though the Pyramids have remained standing for more than 5,000 years, scavengers stripped them long ago of their once-shimmering marble skins. (Aladin Abdel Naby / Reuterrs)
Workers inspect a shaft in the bowels of the WIPP. To ensure that nuclear wastes will remain undisturbed for the 250,000 years it will take for them to become inert, scientists are looking to create history’s most effective Keep Out sign. (Brian Vander Brug / LAT)