News article

What nuclear semiotics can teach us about the benefits of effective communication

In the age of environmentalism, there is one major issue that isn’t close to being resolved while posing a problem for generations thousands of years from now — nuclear waste.

Around 300,000 years ago, Homo sapiens emerged as the dominant hominin species. Today, our rapid technological progress has seen us shape the future of our planet.

In the almost 4,000 years since the dawn of human civilisation, human beings have jumped from creatures bound by survival necessities to scientific pioneers, technological wizards, and voyagers in space.

These vast leaps can make the issue of warning future generations about the existence of nuclear waste a very real and ever-evolving problem, as the way we communicate 1,000, 10,000 or 20,000 years from now may make language today seem incomprehensible.

This issue is known as “nuclear semiotics”.

Read on to learn about the key issues proponents of nuclear semiotics face and what it can teach us about the value of effective communication.

Effective communication promotes your core message in the long-term, not just the short

Communication skills are a vital part of the sales and marketing process. They allow you to promote your service more effectively and persuade potential clients that you are the best option for them.

The more successful you are at promoting yourself, the more likely you are to reach the potential clients you desire.

Over the past few thousand years, languages have died out, dialects have changed, words have replaced glyphs and subsequently lost their original meaning. It makes the concept of communicating with future humans a difficult process to predict.

One of the many problems with nuclear waste is how long it remains a danger to human beings.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) reports that radioactive isotopes such as plutonium-239 have a half-life of 24,000 years, meaning nuclear waste has now become a part of humanity’s legacy to future generations.

In the age of the internet, it’s hard to conceive of how inherently difficult trying to communicate over millennia can be. People today tend to live in the moment and use lingo with a common use that shifts over years rather than decades, let alone centuries or millennia.

So, if language evolves in the short term, how can we effectively communicate with human beings thousands of years from now about the existence of nuclear waste sites?

Nuclear semiotics aims to outline what fundamental elements of communication are inherently clear to human beings once language, societal biases, and the understanding of the time has been removed.

If you want to effectively communicate with someone across obstacles and boundaries, a core message is essential. You need a simplified idea that is relatable regardless of if the understanding and meaning behind the rest of your content shifts over time.

You can discuss all kinds of complex subjects, as long as your core message, whether, for example, it’s “building trust” or “reaching long-term goals”, still carries through clearly and effectively.

Effective communication can help keep your message regularly updated and adapted to the times

According to the New Scientist, famous old English texts such as Beowulf have vast sections with phrases that are completely unfamiliar to modern English speakers. An example being “grimma gaést Grendel” which means “ghastly demon Grendel”. As a thousand years becomes two thousand and so forth, the majority of the original message and meaning becomes lost to time.

Relying on just language to convey the simple message of “danger and death” to people in the future is unlikely to do the job. There needs to be building blocks in place to decipher it and room to adapt to avoid the message of today becoming tomorrow’s gibberish.

In the US, government officials approved a plan to erect stone obelisks at a nuclear waste site with warnings inscribed in seven prominent languages. They left sections blank so that future generations could add translations into the language of the day in order to keep a regularly updated record that is easier for future humans to decipher.

This technique can be an effective tool in marketing content. References to past articles provide a “thought timeline” and allow previous concepts to be used as a foundation for more recent releases, while also allowing more recent content to keep facts, figures, or concepts refreshed and updated.

The BBC reported on a study by the International Atomic Energy Agency that found that international symbols for radiation warning, such as the trefoil (three black blades on a yellow background), are only recognised by as little as 6% of the current global population.

If what we might perceive as common symbols of our time have little meaning, how do we ensure any message left behind survives the passage of time?

It will need to be greater than the sum of the materials it’s made from and the restrictions of the written or spoken word. It will need to translate across various forms of communication.

Effective communication relies on promoting your simplified message across various mediums

Effectively communicating in marketing doesn’t simply rely on copy. It can utilise different formats and be showcased on multiple platforms. It can involve branding, podcasts or radio, photography or videography, social media, and a million other means of communication.

Remember: if the core message remains clear, it remains effective communication.

The meaning of symbols can change over time too. The human skull might seem like a universal sign for danger or death, but in many cultures or ancient civilisations it was considered a mark of respect for the dead and intimated a place of worship or celebration.

Proponents of nuclear semiotics have developed several unusual ideas to try and solve the dilemma.

Ideas include atomic clocks counting down until sites become safe, cats genetically bred to change colour around radiation, and the development of a religion built around nuclear waste.

The linguist Thomas Sebeok suggested reverting back to basics such as the power of collective human storytelling and religion as a means to allow a message to survive vast passages of time.

He proposed the creation of an Atomic Priesthood – a fake religion created around an oral tradition of myths associated with nuclear sites. It would interweave stories, rituals, and objects to create deep rooted understanding of the danger of nuclear sites and the taboo of digging around radioactive materials.

Whatever approach we finally decide upon, it’s clear that effective communication can’t be confined to any one format. It involves language, storytelling, imagery, symbols, and a core message that is constantly updated and remains persuasive.

In the world of marketing, content is king. Effective content has the power to engage with people and combine delivering ideas with building trust and understanding.

If you want to protect your current and future clients from the potential dangers they might unknowingly face, working with others to get your message across — simply, clearly, and effectively — could be the first step.

Get in touch

If you are interested in exploring ways of effectively promoting your service to clients across a variety of written and visual formats, you should start by communicating with the team at Yardstick by email at or by calling us on 0115 8965 300.

Stay in touch


Sign up to receive our hints, tips & ideas to improve your marketing.
As you’d expect, we’ll never pass your details to anyone else and if you don’t like what we have to say, you can unsubscribe at any time.