Five minutes away from Doomsday

By staff writers
January 18, 2007

The scientists who mind the Doomsday Clock yesterday moved it two minutes closer to midnight, which symbolizes the annihilation of civilization, adding the perils of global warming for the first time to acute nuclear threats.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 to warn the world of the dangers of nuclear weapons, advanced the clock to five minutes until midnight.

It was the first adjustment of the clock since 2002 and the closest to doomsday it's been since the Cold War.

The move comes as churches continue to protest against the British Government's proposal for a new replacement for its Trident nuclear weapons system.

North Korea's nuclear bomb test, Iranian nuclear plans and atomic energy projects posed as an answer to climate change prompted the elite scientific journal to move the hands of its iconic clock on its cover to 11:55.

Midnight represents doomsday on the clock, for six decades a symbolic indicator of the threat posed by nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear science has changed the world, "but it hasn't managed to change the way that people think about the world, and that's why we're here," said Mark Strauss, the journal's editor.

The journal was founded by University of Chicago scientists whose work on the first atomic bomb led them to anti-nuclear advocacy.

Decisions to change the clock come from the bulletin's board of sponsors, a group of scientists and policymakers that includes 18 Nobel laureates.

The group unveiled the new clock and a statement at a joint news conference in Washington and London yesterday (Wednesday).

"Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices," the statement declared.

Nuclear weapons expansion, renewed emphasis on nuclear weapons in war and poor safeguards of nuclear materials "are symptomatic of a failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth."

This is the 18th time the clock's hands have moved since it was created in 1947. At the start of the nuclear arms race in 1953, the clock came within two minutes of midnight. In 1991, after the Soviet Union and U.S. signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the clock moved the furthest from doomsday it's ever been, to 11:43.

Thomas Pickering, former ambassador and co-chair of the International Crisis Group, sounded one of the news conference's few semi-bright notes, by pointing to renewed talks with nuclear aspirants.

"Diplomacy ought to be our first resort," he said, "especially when there is time."

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