Traditional “Hard Disk Drives” (HDD) last for some years, if they are quality and defect-free units, but French researchers and designers are working on some kind of completely different storage medium: a disk that’s hard, that’s made of sapphire and that should last for millions of years to let the offspring of humanity know that there is nuclear waste buried beneath the ground.
The sapphire “hard disk” prototype has been created by ANDRA, the French nuclear waste management agency: the unit (one of its kind) costs 25,000 dollars to make, and stores information with platinum-based etchings. The disk itself is actually made up of two different disks (20 cm across) of industrial-grade sapphire molecularly fused together.
The data stored on the sapphire disk contains 40,000 miniaturized (not digital) pages, and the future archaeologists will just need a simple microscope to read them. ANDRA researchers tested the disk durability by immersing it in acid to simulate the ageing process: the “unit” should last 1 million year at least, the researchers stated, while they hope to prove a durability of 10 million years soon.
The sapphire hard disk is one of the solutions ANDRA and other European organizations dealing with nuclear waste are trying to develop to answer a very difficult question: how to inform the future generations about the proximity of a nuclear deposit and the right way to deal with the radioactive waste it contains?
Furthermore, if the 10-million years hard disk proved to be a good solution to store data about an underground deposit of nuclear fuel, there would be still another challenge to overcome: ANDRA researchers say that right now they have “no idea what language to write it in”. ANDRA and the other European organizations are in fact searching for answers coming “from other parts of society”, while the sapphire disk prototype is being shown at the Euroscience Open Forum 2012 held in Dublin.