National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring/Summer 2015, Volume 16, Number 1.


Copyright © 2015 by the National Collegiate Honors Council.


Outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, a mere three hundred miles from the University of New Mexico where I teach, is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). This deep, geologic storehouse will entomb nuclear weapons waste for the next 10,000 years. The transuranic elements—elements with an atomic number of 92, uranium, or higher—are unstable and radioactive, and they decay at a half-life rate that makes them dangerous environmental contaminants. During the planning phase of the WIPP’s construction, the Department of Energy hired archaeologists, historians, linguists, materials scientists, and science fiction writers to address questions such as the one paraphrased here: How should we communicate radioactive danger to Earthdwellers after five hundred generations of linguistic variation? (Piller). How can we communicate that this repository is not a monument filled with treasure to the Cyborg Indiana Jones who may come a thousand years hence?