Plans for a new fleet of UK nuclear power plants are under way. Last month, for example, Hitachi and the Japanese government confirmed a plan to construct 5.4 gigawatts of generating capacity at UK sites. But what about the waste? And what happens when, in thousands of years, our descendants – who may not read any current human language – find a store, and put themselves in danger?

A panel of scientists and linguists asked this question in 1981 when the US Department of Energy commissioned them to find a method of ensuring that whatever is left of humanity in 10,000 years’ time is warned off the sites we’ve been filling with radioactive sludge.

The panel reasoned that since few people can read texts that are only 1,000 years old, written warnings guaranteed to be understood by future humanity could be difficult to create.

The answer may lie in “nuclear semiotics” – future-proof signs. Other options include hostile architecture, obelisks – or cats.

In 1984, writer Françoise Bastide and semiotician Paolo Fabbri suggested the answer could lie in breeding animals that “react with discoloration of the skin when exposed” to radiation. “[Their] role as a detector of radiation should be anchored in cultural tradition by introducing a suitable name (eg, ‘ray cat’).”

In short: cats that turn, say, green when near radioactive material. A legend, passed on through the millennia, would trigger a response in humans to get out as soon as possible.

The idea has recently gained fresh traction: the Ray Cat Solution movement, formed in 2015, is working to “insert ray cats into the cultural vocabulary”. They say it may be possible to harness some animals’ innate capacity to become fluorescent, or to absorb and emit light – but cats don’t have the physiology to do that. Another way would be to engineer cats to glow using enzyme interaction – a mechanism used to study cellular activity. Far fetched, but it could just work.