In the next several years, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) will bury some 500,000 barrels of radioactive waste a third of a mile beneath New Mexico’s shifting sand desert, in a geophysical-inert thick salt formation. The waste will remain dangerous for 10,000 years.
DOE wants to make a permanent warning at this burial site of its dangers, to help prevent inadvertent release of radioactivity into our descendant’s food chain, water supply, and air. The warning must endure, be found and understood.
There is no guarantee of U.S. governmental control 100 years past internment. No built places have lasted for 10,000 years.
THE SEVEN TEST DESIGNS
1. Landscape of Thorns
A random forest of concrete thorns or oddly shaped claws, 50 feet high, the shapes of which suggest punctures, wounding of the body. These thorns all rise up from below and reach out like an uncontrolled growth of something dangerous‑-perhaps mutations.
2. Menacing Earthworks
Immense lightning-shaped earthworks radiating from an open-centered Keep‑-emanations of danger seen best from the air, or from vantage points on top of the highest, 70-feet earthworks. At ground level, these massive earthworks crowd in, cutting off the horizon and making a loss of place. The square sandy Keep is vast and desolate, except for a walk-on map locating the many other radioactive waste sites in the world.
3. Black Hole
A dark masonry slab, evoking an enormous “black hole;” an immense no-thing; a void; land removed from use; worthless. Uninhabitable, and often exceedingly hot because its blackness absorbs the sun’s heat and re-radiates it. The slab’s many joints have an irregular pattern, like the cracks in parched land.
4. Spikes Bursting Through Grid
A regular grid, about house-sized, inlaid in a masonry slab that covers the Keep. The heavy, ordering lid cannot stop the wounding energy from bursting up from below. The spikes/teeth/barbs first ripple in the Keep’s cover, then deform it, then puncture it; finally, the grid’s reliable and human-imposed order is destroyed by a more powerful force‑-chaos.
5. Rubble Landscape
Under the sand is a layer of stone. Its square outer rim is dynamited into boulders and bulldozed into a crude pile over the Keep, a cover different in height, material and vegetation from the surrounding desert. This rubble is an effort to keep something dangerous in its lair‑-an inhospitable place that feels destroyed rather than created.
6. Forbidding Blocks
The stone under the sand is dynamited and cast into black, house-sized, concrete-and-stone blocks set in a deliberately irregular square grid, with a five-foot-wide “street” running both ways. These streets go nowhere and are hot, ominous, and too narrow to live or meet in. The scheme is a massive effort to deny use. The landscape is crudely ordered, forbidding and uninhabitable.
7. Spike Field
Stone spikes pierce the sand, projecting from the Keep, uncontrolled and chaotic. The area is walled, with the spikes imprisoned and the outside safe.
- Michael Brill, art by Safdar Abidi