Editorial: What sign would you like to see?
This issue's cover image is the international warning symbol for radiation. The original 1946 version was magenta on blue, but by the 1950s it had acquired a yellow background that better screamed 'danger'.
It's just a warning icon, yet it's one that has become as powerful and emotive as it is recognisable. However, the International Atomic Energy Authority didn't think it was immediate enough for many people and last year added a new warning sign for ionizing radiation (see above). It's less graphically elegant and leaves little to the imagination about what you should do and what could happen to you if you don't.
Big controversies are full of powerful icons. We thought about doing something witty/new/clever/too-clever-by-half with the smiling sun 'Nuclear Power? No Thanks' design that graced the back windows of VW campers in the 1970s. But Wise, the campaign group that owns it, fiercely protects its copyright and has won cases against 20 firms misusing it in the last five years. I find it ironic that the sticker, which was based on a child's design, features one massive nuclear reactor - the Sun.
The symbol on our cover is so familiar to so many people, yet so few of them will have seen it in a laboratory or power plant. The fact that exposure to the radiation symbol is almost always through news photographs and TV just goes to show how big an issue nuclear power has been for so long - and it's not about to go away. Our nuclear issue covers the past present and future. Our features editor, Vitali Viatliev, recalls his visit to Chernobyl, while Ukrainian journalist Askold Krushelnycky looks at the future of the radioactive ruins. The UK has now approved new nuclear power plant builds, but the industry has a long way to go to make it reality. Our power editor Mark Venables outlines those obstacles and then takes a close look at the four options open to the government.
I love symbols, icons and signs, from the famous 1972 Olympic sport icons, to computer desktop icons. The warning signs for electric shock hazard (man zapped in the chest by lightning) or dangerous animals (hand with a chunk bitten out of it) have always made me smile at their uncompromising, unselfconscious directness. Let me know your favourite.
One area that seems ripe for a new warning sign ('hazardous to your morals'?) is synthetic biology. It's engineering, it's new, it's exciting and it will be controversial. Read our exclusive interview with one of its pioneers, Dr Craig Venter. Our electronics editor, Chris Edwards, looks at the latest work in this new field, and asks whether it needs legislation. Concerns range from accusations of 'playing God' to questions over what happens when engineered life-forms leak into the environment.
There are signs for lasers, biohazards, even chemical weapons. What would a synthetic biology icon look like? Send your sketches or descriptions to email@example.com - we can redraw them if needed. E&T goodie bags to the best ideas.