Futureproof: Containment

How might we imagine our world 10 years in the future? What about 100 years? Or, as the Department of Energy scientists in Containment are plagued with asking, what about 10,000 years? Can we predict the values, actions, and beliefs of citizens of future America (that is, if it’s still around), or is there no way to tell how the world might operate and even what languages are still spoken?

Film still taken from www.containmentmovie.com/%5B/caption%5D

In Containment, filmmakers Peter Galison and Robb Moss tell a story of the global problem of nuclear waste: where do we put it, and how do we make sure nobody is exposed to it? The film focuses  on three major nuclear waste facilities, in Carlsbad, New Mexico; Aiken, South Carolina; and Okuma, Fukushima, Japan. Galison and Moss show that the event of nuclear disaster that many Americans think is in the far future is actually completely current, namely, in the Fukushima power plant explosion in 2011. Due to global warming, dense populations, and other environmental and human factors, the number of places left to dispose of or store nuclear waste is diminishing and the locations less secure. Containment documents the difficult task assumed by the team at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad: determining the best way to keep people from drilling into the land and exposing the waste to the environment, even 10,000 years into the future.

Film still taken from www.containmentmovie.com/%5B/caption%5D

The task seems easy enough: put up signage, fences, even fields of stone monuments to deter human interaction. However, the job seems easy because 10,000 years is almost impossible for us to wrap our optimistic heads around. Stonehenge, as Galison noted in a Skype discussion after the screening, is only 5,000 years old, and yet we know so little about it. In the film we see visual representations in graphic novel form of just a handful of the scenarios the team at WIPP conceived that might unleash the radioactive waste. Someone builds a high-speed train from Houston to Los Angeles. Robots rebel and dig up the radioactive waste knowing it’s harmful to humans. The frozen graphic simulations of these situations emphasize the inability to grasp and fully comprehend the world 10,000 years in the future; we can really only conceive of snapshots of life at this time.

Film still taken from www.containmentmovie.com/%5B/caption%5D

Though I am frustrated by the inability to visualize the far future, I realize how difficult it can be to visualize even the near past. Just as the far future is rendered in illustrated snapshots, our memories are fragmented, knotted together, and molded subconsciously by our constantly-changing selves. In one way we think we have control over the future because it hasn’t happened yet, but in another way this might be a foolish mistake of humanity intended to rid ourselves of responsibility for the future; rather than feel we can make the future, we should strive to fix the future. Our pasts and futures are closely related and equally fleeting. One scholar in the film noted that in Fukushima before the explosion, many people could return to their homes in the aftermath of an earthquake to rebuild what was lost. After the nuclear disaster, however, it took years for anyone to even begin to feel safe. Just as the toxicity of radiation prohibits immediate and effective repair, the toxicity of our past bad decisions is a formula for future destruction. It is in our present hands to change thator at least warn others.

Film still taken from www.containmentmovie.com/%5B/caption%5D

Esme Trontz ’18, History of Art Major, Brooklyn, NY