Sapphire disks to store data for millions of years


Nuclear scientists have apparently decided out short-lived, volatile storage methods aren’t safe enough. In an attempt to rectify that problem, a new type of storage is being developed. One that can last for millions of years.

ANDRA is the French nuclear waste management agency. They are faced with a problem: how to warn people in the far future of the dangers of the nuclear waste? The answer, apparently, is to create a special sapphire and platinum disk etched with information that will last for 10 million years.

The disk is made from an eighth-inch round of industrial sapphire that is etched with platinum. The disk, when burned in much the same way as a CD, can hold up to 40,000 pages of pictures and text. Once the data is imprinted, a second disk is fused to the first, locking the data between a molecular barrier of sapphire. Each disk costs $30,000.00 to make.

While the data can be preserved for 10 million years, there is still an obvious problem: how will the people of the future read it? Even ANDRA’s Patrick Charton admitted that, while the disks are meant as a source of “information for future archaeologists… [we] have no idea what language to write it in.” and that assumes that the archaeologists will realize that there is data in there at all.

While this technology is meant mostly as a way to warn people away from dangerously radioactive areas, personally I like the idea of more general information being inscribed on the disks. Photos, famous texts, and a record of our era’s history should be inscribed and stored somewhere safe for a future world, just in case something does happen to us. The cost is comparatively small for being able to provide a mechanism for cultural memory.