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Data Storage Hardware Science

A Million-Year Hard Disk 394

Posted by samzenpus
from the sapphires-are-forever dept.
sciencehabit writes "Pity the builders of nuclear waste repositories. They have to preserve records of what they've buried and where, not for a few years but for tens of thousands of years, perhaps even millions. Trouble is, no current storage medium lasts that long. Today, Patrick Charton of the French nuclear waste management agency ANDRA presented one possible solution to the problem: a sapphire disk inside which information is engraved using platinum. The prototype shown costs €25,000 to make, but Charton says it will survive for a million years. The aim, Charton says, is to provide 'information for future archaeologists.' But, he concedes: 'We have no idea what language to write it in.'"
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A Million-Year Hard Disk

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  • Re:Etchings? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jgotts (2785) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .sttogj.> on Thursday July 12, 2012 @07:05PM (#40633935)

    Platinum etchings sandwiched between two layers of sapphire. Like microfilm, but with etchings. So now we can write all sorts of shit down, but where do we put it so we know whoever is digging will stop and figure out what it says?

    Personally I think the need for millions of years of survivability are stupid. We've been using atomic energy for what, 60 years? I think we might find a way to put the "waste" to use long before we have to worry about such long-term data storage. That, and we'll either be advanced enough to repair radiation-induced damage in the next couple of hundred years, or civilization will have fallen and our life spans will be so short that a little radiological damage won't really matter.

    My thought is that within the next few hundred years we'll be recovering resources from landfills and all sorts of spaces too toxic to deal with now.

    Already we're dealing with polluted industrial sites. We'll become more and more efficient with that. We'll start to become very efficient at remining rare earths out of landfills and it will cascade from there.

  • by gr8_phk (621180) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @08:38PM (#40634621)
    I can encode a "don't open" image on one table, the periodic table on another, several number systems (for translation) on a third, and a schematic of the objects buried on a 4th indicating the radioactive elements inside other materials. So yes, 4 tablets that don't require technology to decode. Or one could do a large tablet including all of the above. The first image is all you need. The other 3 are for civilizations that understand atoms to understand what the hazard is.
  • by Trogre (513942) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @09:06PM (#40634815) Homepage

    And still they are often ignored. See Japanese tsunami warning stones.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 12, 2012 @09:29PM (#40634977)

    I can encode a "don't open" image on one table, the periodic table on another, several number systems (for translation) on a third, and a schematic of the objects buried on a 4th indicating the radioactive elements inside other materials. So yes, 4 tablets that don't require technology to decode. Or one could do a large tablet including all of the above. The first image is all you need. The other 3 are for civilizations that understand atoms to understand what the hazard is.

    Yours is a reasonable suggestion. Who is going to have the technology to magnify, then decipher 40,000 pages etched on a sapphire? Perhaps a Plutonium-powered 3D hologram? Then, in which language ... Latin, perhaps? Or multiple, by then well-dead languages? That sapphire is just as likely to be stuffed into the regalia of some future monarch. (Has anyone had the opportunity to examine current & former royal jewelry / precious stones to see if something similar hasn't already been done 250,000 years ago? What, nobody will let anyone near those jewels? What a surprise ... not.)

    Regardless, one can pretty much count on the likelihood that humanoid-type survivors 250,000 years from now would have created an entire new religion around the task of safeguarding the nuclear waste site from scavengers. I point to the science fiction "A Canticle For Leibowitz" as a reference, since science fiction usually (unfortunately) becomes science fact.

    Better safer more permanent disposal methods & locations need to be found. The bottom of the southern end of the Mariana Trench, where one tectonic plate of the Earth's crust subsumes under the other and back under the Earth's mantle sounds quite a bit more permanent.

  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @10:43PM (#40635445)

    I think modding needs 1-5 rankings in multiple categories:

    Relevant: not at all to spot-on
    Funny: no to puked on my keyboard (where no doesn't mean failed humor, just not funny, which most posts would probably be)
    Incendiary: irrational flame bait to cold logic
    Popularity: The author is evil to the author is my god

    My thinking is that if popularity were explicitly differentiated from relevance, people might not be so eager to mark down things which they disagree with.

  • Re:easy answer. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by andymadigan (792996) <.amadigan. .at. .gmail.com.> on Friday July 13, 2012 @12:38AM (#40636033)
    Those valuable metals will be quickly stripped away like the stones of old roman buildings.
  • Re:easy answer. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tuidjy (321055) on Friday July 13, 2012 @12:44AM (#40636057)

    Oh, come on. The very idea to use a CD is kinda dim, and plain pictures on a titanium plate is a much better way to go about it, but if you have to use digital media, there are formats that any civilized person will decipher rather quickly.

    Assuming sequential binary, here is a simple video format that is extremely inefficient, but I think everyone will understand.

    Simple bitmap, and begin by repeating an empty frame a few times. A empty 8x8 frame would look like this: 1111111110000001100000011000000110000001100000011000000111111111

    Repeat it enough times for the reader to get that there is a pattern, then start flipping the zeros to ones to produce your images.

    I think that most people would get it.

  • un-mine it! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LSDelirious (1569065) on Friday July 13, 2012 @01:47AM (#40636299)
    uranium comes from ore dug out of the ground, at something like 0.1%-1.0% uranium oxide concentrations, so why not just take the radioactive waste and mix it with filler to dilute it down to ore concentrations (suspended in concrete, glass, whatever, something cheap and relatively durable) and drill some really deep holes, deep enough it won't affect any ground water tables, and away from oil fields - ideally near a subduction zone trench where over time the waste would get carried down further into the crust as the waste impregnated plate dives downward. Far out of reach from civilization and in concentrations no more dangerous than already exist in nature. Surely that has to be more cost effective in the long run than maintaining highly guarded secret storage bunkers indefinitely....
  • Re:easy answer. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Friday July 13, 2012 @06:34AM (#40637331)

    Also I'd rather not care about them, and instead focus on making civilization not collapse.

    I mean, a few accidental deaths from overzealous exploration is nothing compared to the billions of deaths said civilizational collapse will have required come beforehand to get to that point.

    It's very much why I think no one is having a sensible discussion about nuclear power when timespans like 10,000 years come up. Those people 10,000 years away do not matter to the discussion if the scenario is contrived "well all records have been destroyed and they only have bronze age technology". Well gee, maybe that happened because the planet got completely ruined by runaway climate change and desertification which could've been avoided if they'd switched to nuclear power?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 13, 2012 @08:39AM (#40638225)

    A civilization that can read a digital storage medium is likely to have geo-exploration techniques that can locate the dangerous stuff directly.

    A civilization that *can't* is just going to take the platinum-and-sapphire thing to whoever in their society gets to keep all the pretty stuff. I mean, epic schwag or what?

    Any readable "this is real dangerous" warning will, guaranteed, be taken by some to mean that something of great value is hidden inside. Bold adventurers (suicidal castaways, drunken wanderers) will venture in, find nothing validating the warnings, but come back to their communities contaminated, with tales of unspoilt resources of great value (even if that's only a dry space with a good roof).

    So just make it obviously as dangerous as it really is. Surround the entrances, and distribute randomly within the area, caches of material so active it will cause quick death to anyone who comes near it. *That's* a universal warning, no?

    "Hey, I think these distinctive structures, ancient pictographs and/or artificial barriers mean that it's dangerous to go any further". "Where, over here? .... oooh, not feelin' good all of a sudden ... ".

    All these schemes for warnings seem to be just a salve for the consciousnesses of people who want to pretend that burying million-year-lifetime radioactive waste can be made acceptable to our current sensibilities of low (and declining) risk tolerance.

    Either that, or it's a subversive plot by opponents who want to show that long-term storage is an insurmountable ethical problem for both power generation and weapons development.

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