Universal Warning Sign: Yucca Mountain

concept and design by Yulia Hanansen


Aerial View 1


Aerial View 2

Site View

Entering Sign

In the Center of the Sign

Cross Cut

Competition Challenge


Design Description

Materials and Forms

Contact Information


2D Version of the Sign

Competition challenge:

To create a universal warning sign/permanent marker for the high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, NV. The purpose of the warning sign is "to deter intentional or inadvertent human intrusion or interference at the site and to effectively communicate over the course of the next 10,000 years that the integrity of the site must not be compromised in any way in order to prevent the release of the radiation contained within."

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The "Radioactive Danger" sign as we know it today may not be known as such in thousands of years to come. However, it should be known as a sign used in the 20th-21st centuries to communicate the message of radioactive danger. Therefore, we incorporated into our design elements that bear some of the features of conventional 2D "Radioactive Danger" sign, so that the future archaeologists could identify it as a warning dated back to 2000A.D.

We stylized the conventional sign, arriving at the conjoined triangle design shown below. The sign has sharp edges, representing an acuteness and seriousness appropriate for the warning it must convey. It is a pyramidal structure which can be perceived as a message containing another message. The monument itself becomes a symbolic mountain where one will be able to enter it and learn about what lies within.

Since there are 6 known entrances into the mountain, there will be one sign placed by each entrance blocking further passage into the mountain. The size of each sign, 37 feet in diameter and 12 feet tall at the peak, allows them to be easily observed from the air.

aerial view of our model (vertical projection)

elevated side view

2D cross-sectional view of our design


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Design Description:

The traditional nuclear waste sign is used as a starting point for this design. The hexagonal shape at the base is dissected into equilateral triangles. Every other triangle is cut out and the freed spaces become passageways towards the center. The remaining three triangles form a stylized nuclear waste sign. The central vertices of those triangles are raised to form a mountain-like structure. The base of each pyramidal section is equilateral, but the raised triangles are not. However, when viewed directly from the top (aerial view), all the triangles appear to be equal sided, perfecting the sign. Furthermore, the three pyramidal sections are slightly moved away from the center to create an enclosed space for the Uranium atom sphere. To emphasize that the sphere is enclosed inside a mountain, semi-arches are cut out on the raised vertices of the triangles.

The pyramidal structure of the sign and its open passageways serve a purpose of an imaginary tour inside of the mountain, revealing the main message in the center : "Danger, radiation below the surface". In order to get to the center, one will have to pass between the walls. The walls have 3 aspects to them:

  1. as one enters the sign, the walls start growing in height, signifying that one is going inside of the mountain.
  2. the passageway between the walls is getting narrower, indicating that the center is approaching.
  3. The colors of the walls change from earth browns to alarming reds to yellows to high-energy bright yellow-whites, indicating the increasing proximity to the radioactive repository inside of the mountain.

When at the center, one will notice that the triangle walls don't end at the sharp angles. Instead, the inner edges of those triangles are cut into concave semi-arches forming an alcove. In this alcove lies a sphere. The sphere is a model of a Uranium atom, signifying one of the many radioactive compounds that might be found within the repository. To reinforce that idea, black walls of semi arches bear 92 red or 143 blue dots inlayed in them. Those dots signify 92 protons, 92 electrons, and 143 neutrons that make up the Uranium atom. The model of Uranium atom is 3 ft in diameter. It is elevated off the ground by 1ft podium. The podium bears a written message: "DANGER. HARMFUL RADIATION BELLOW. Do not dig. Do not drill till 12,000 AD." The sphere is made out of concrete with blue and red smalti glass inlayed to represent the subatomic particles that form an atom. When hit by the rays of sun, glass is illuminated, creating a glow from within.

Color is important in conveying a message. For the message to be understood correctly in 10,000 years, yellow is used to signify radiation. Pyramidal walls are made of stone with stainless steel mesh attached (to support smalti), and inlayed with smalti glass, a very durable mosaics material that is proven to last for lengthy periods of time. The top sections of the sign are inlayed with bright yellow smalti. The sides of the project are inlayed in browns, reds, oranges, yellows, and bright yellow-whites. All the colors transition into each other.

The structure will be sitting on a 3ft high black basalt platform with the steps leading to the top of the platform. Elevating the structure off the ground we ensure that the it won't be covered by the wind blown sand and the flood waters.

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Materials and Forms:

Granite: Granite is a naturally occurring stone known to withstand variety of weather conditions including temperature and humidity changes. Granite is also chosen for its weight that makes the structure practically impossible to remove from the site. It is more expensive then concrete, however it is also more durable. The structure of the pyramid was chosen for its shape. Pyramids have been known to withstand weather damage for thousands of years. Although ancient pyramids in Egypt were damaged during their existence, they are still recognizable as unmistakably man-made shapes. Those shapes are impossible not to notice, especially from the air.

Basalt: Basalt is a naturally occurring stone that forms under high temperatures during volcanic activities. It is one of the hardest stones known. It is capable of resisting weight, temperature and weather stress. Therefore, we are using it to create a platform that will support the structure.

Stainless Steel and Concrete: In order to attach glass to the structure, a stainless steel mesh is used with concrete mortar poured on top of it. Together, the steel and the mortar make a sturdy base for the glass to be embed into. Both man made materials, they are one of the sturdiest and least expensive known to us.

High Durability Smalti Glass: smalti is the best quality glass one can use to create mosaics. They were originally produced in Venice, Italy to create Byzantine style mosaics. Smalti was chosen for this project for the following reasons:

        1. A warning sign has to be brightly colored in order to be noticed, however, there is no naturally occurring yellow colored material that could preserve its appearance for centuries. Even man made materials, such as yellow paint or yellow plastic will be soon discolored under the UV rays of Sun. The only sturdy and weather resistant material that is able to preserve its color consistency through the ages is colored glass. Smalti colors do not fade, since the metals used to create the colors are permanently bound into the glass structure, guaranteeing that the colors will remain the same for thousands of years.
        2. Once embedded into the concrete wall, smalti becomes one with that wall, almost impossible to detach.
        3. Mosaics is a well tested medium for projects that are meant to last. The earliest mosaics (from Uruk, Iraq) are dated back to 4,000B.C. and are still in good condition. Byzantine style mosaics, where smalti was a prime medium, still exist. They were assembled in the beginning of Christian times.

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Contact Information:

Yulia Hanansen
601 West Madison St,
Ann Arbor, MI, 48103
Tel: (734)769-8478

M.F.A., 2000, Columbia University. New York, NY. Printmaking/Digital Media.
M.A., 1998, University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI. Graphics.
B.F.A., 1996, Cooper Union. New York, NY. Graphics/Painting/Photography.

Yulia Hanansen is an artist specializing in large scale mosaic projects for interior and exterior spaces. Her studio space is in Ann Arbor, MI, where she is engaged into designing and implementing her projects and proposals. She has a continuing partnership with New York City based Unicorn Art Studio, Inc. that designs and manufactures large scale mosaics. Please, see http://www.mosaicmaster.com for more information on the projects.

All images are © by Yulia Hanansen
and may only be reproduced with
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