The Earth is marked by the nuclear age. This is true whether we consider the history of the nuclear age, or its future. Looking back through history, a small number of scholars have taken up Paul Crutzen’s revised proposal for the origins of the Anthropocene epoch as coinciding with the dawn of the nuclear age. “Like radiation medicine administered to a patient to make the internal system visible to doctors”, says Robert Jacobs, “the movement of radionuclides through the ecosystem revealed a systemic interconnectedness that had been previously invisible.” Elsewhere, Myra Hird has speculated as to whether the marker of the Anthropocene is in fact its waste sites, such as that produced by the 1945 Trinity test and its infrastructure. Much work remains to be done in the coming months and years to examine the veracity of Crutzen’s hypothesis, as well as the direction others such as Jacobs and Hird have variously taken it.
Looking deep into the future, many are considering the task of communicating the problem of nuclear harm to the next 30,000 generations. Permanent waste repositories, for instance, are intended to be sealed and passively monitored (without human intervention) for the next 100,000 or more years. To avoid intrusion there is a debate as to how, if at all, these sites should to be communicated—by the establishment of specialist archives and “markers”. That is, what symbols, messages, images, and warnings might humans responsible for such markings use today in order to communicate to beings 10s and 100s of thousands of years into the future? Will these intruders listen to—or even comprehend—the messages delivered by present-day humans at all? The question of nuclear markers is therefore an open one. And for this reason, it was the inaugural “focus theme” of the Archive of Nuclear Harm.