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The VICE Guide to Right Now Podcast

This Artist's Designs Aim to Keep Future Humans Away from Nuclear Waste

On today's episode, we talk to Jon Lomberg, a longtime friend, and colleague of Carl Sagan, on protecting future humans from America's atomic past.
Image by Jon Lomberg

Jon Lomberg, who worked under Carl Sagan at NASA, is best known for designing visual presentations about astronomy and the search for extraterrestrial life. So he was a little out of his element when Sagan tapped him to create a marking system to deter humans from entering America’s only active nuclear waste repository, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), for the next 10,000 years.

But a few years later, he found himself channeling his art into a simple concept that he hopes will withstand centuries and warn future people (and extraterrestrials) away from the toxic waste site.


"The cover drawing that I made…that drawing will last a thousand million years," he says on the podcast. "Maybe the longest lived piece of human art."

The WIPP has already received more than 171,000 containers of nuclear waste to date, according to a WIPP spokesperson, and recently resumed operations after being closed for three years due to a leak. The 10,000-year marker will be built, theoretically, whenever the site closes, though what form it’ll end up taking is anyone’s guess. After all, Lomberg says, the nuclear tomb he helped create "is still just a design proposal."

Motherboard's Brian Anderson spoke to Jon Lomberg about working with Sagan and designing this Cold War tomb on The VICE Guide to Right Now Podcast.

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