When We Are History

Steve McCracken has overseen a 13-year, $800 million cleanup and burial of the radioactive waste at Weldon Spring. Now that the odyssey is nearing its end, one thought haunts him -- how to warn people in the future not to dig it up.

"There's nothing there to hurt you," McCracken says, still turning pages of Favorite Recipes but looking up at the artists' renderings of the final storage facility on his wall. "A fence would just scare people for no reason at all. Why not make it an attraction rather than something scary?"

Communicating that idea won't be easy, not to the feds or to the state, which tend to think in terms of completions and closing dates, or to individuals like Kay Drey, who will always question the safety of a place where 300 million pounds of radioactive waste with a shelf life of 4.5 billion years is buried under a big pile of rocks.

"People will lose their memory of what the pile of rocks is," McCracken says, "and somebody's going to probably try and excavate it someday to find out. You have to assume things like that are going to happen, and there's absolutely nothing we can build today to keep that from happening.

"How do you deal with that? I don't know that you do. I think you can do what can be expected of engineering and science and don't try to suggest that we're able to guarantee something forever. You just can't. One thousand years from now, things are going to change a lot. Everything is going to be completely different. Do I think we're doing the right thing in spite of that? The answer is yes, because it is the best we can do.

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