One way that scientists have come up with to warn people away from dangerous areas, besides signs, is color-changing animals. Nevada’s Yucca Mountain is one such site, as it was once supposed to be a dumping ground for nuclear waste. Years ago, the U.S. government considered using genetically engineered cats, which would change color when entering areas with high radiation, to warn people away from Yucca Mountain.
The Human Interference Task Force, as it was called according to Tech Insider, was supposed to figure out innovative ways of keeping people away from Yucca Mountain far, far into the future. It takes 10,000 years for nuclear waste to degrade to the point where radiation levels are safe. We absolutely needed something capable of warning people away from the area that would outlast our current society.
Ideas turned to animals because, in theory, animals can continue to populate an area for generations, across the rise and fall of societies, the evolution of language, and more. Signs are all well and good, but for the period of time we’re talking about, the reasons for keeping people away from Yucca Mountain would need to fall into the categories of myths and legends. Color-changing animals would lend credence to those myths, and help perpetuate them, no matter what happened to society.
The “ray cats” would serve that purpose. According to Method Quarterly, we would invent a whole body of folklore around the ray cats, which would boil down to, “When you see a cat change color, you’d better run.”
There’s one huge problem, though, and that’s whether they would also genetically engineer these cats to not just survive the radiation, but be unaffected altogether. If radiation is dangerous for us, it’s dangerous for cats and other animals. When thought of in this manner, the idea of “ray cats” to warn people away from Yucca Mountain becomes repugnant.
That doesn’t even touch the idea of scientific experimentation on cats, which is something that animal rights groups have been trying to stop for a long time. In the quest to engineer cats to change color in the presence of harmful radiation, how many cats would die too early, and in pain? How many cats would be born without much chance at a life? How many cats would suffer from the effects of the radiation to which they’re exposed before scientists hit upon something that made them immune to it?
And so forth. Tech Insider mentions that scientists haven’t entirely given up the idea of inventing ray cats, despite Yucca Mountain’s lack of existence. There are scientists in Montreal that want to work on this idea, starting with much smaller, simpler organisms, and working their way up to cats. These scientists are well aware of ethical concerns involved with experimenting on cats this way, which is why they want to work their way up. If our government had to do this, we can hope they would have done it this way, but there are still major issues with this idea.
Yucca Mountain is non-existent, although we have other nuclear waste repositories that will need guarding for the next 10,000 years (or longer). One can hope that they find a better way of doing so than using animals.