Saturday, 12 March 2011

Into Eternity - Communicating with the Future

The film Into Eternity, a documentary by Scandinavian film maker Michael Madsen, explores the Finnish nuclear authority's efforts to deal with their rapidly accumulating nuclear waste. Their plan has been to bury it deep within Finlands ancient bedrock. The facility, lying 500 metres underground at the end of 5kms of tunnels, is set to be completed early in the 22nd century. It is designed to safely contain the radioactive waste for the 100,000 years that it will remain hazardous. The film maker addresses the viewer as a voice from the past, our present, with a message for an imagined civilisation far in our future, a warning to stay away from this place, to leave the ground and its invisible dangers undisturbed.

The first challenge of the facility is to design something which will last more than ten times the length of anything human beings have previously built. The second and more difficult challenge is how to communicate the danger of the place to an unknown and unknowable future civilisation. In the last 100,000 years many civilisations have risen and fallen, many languages have been developed and lost. How do we communicate with a society of which we can predict nothing? That our own will still be existing 100 millenia from now is unikely. Any warning we leave, if the people then are anything like us, is likely to be ignored, dismissed as superstitious nonsense. They will dig regardless. How can we convince them to leave well alone?

The film states there is probably only 100-150 years worth of uranium supplies. Nuclear energy is a finite resource. Something which can provide energy for such a short span will have consequences far further into the future than we can project. Why mess with something we cannot possibly control? Into Eternity with its long slow panning shots of endless tunnels and stark blank laboratories is a beautiful, poetic, terrifying and very real warning to us here and now.

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