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Doomsday clock warning of nuclear power danger closer to midnight

January 10, 2012 |  1:34 pm

Doomsday clock warns about nuclear power dangers
The time on the Doomsday clock has moved, and it's in the wrong direction.

On Tuesday, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the metaphorical doomsday clock is now at five minutes to midnight, putting humanity one figurative minute closer to catastrophic destruction than it was just two years ago.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in the 1940s by members of the Manhattan Project as a way to educate the public about the dangers of nuclear power. The group debuted the idea of the doomsday clock in 1947, when the time on the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight. They have met every couple of years ever since to discuss the state and fate of the world, and to reset the clock.

This year the board, which includes nuclear and environmental scientists as well as national security experts, cited the failure to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel and North Korea as chief among its reasons for moving the minute hand of the clock closer to doomsday.

"The world still has approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the Earth's inhabitants several times over," the board wrote in a joint statement.

The board also found the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, particularly alarming. "Safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters," the members wrote.

And finally, the board expressed grave concern about climate change, writing, "In fact, the global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth's atmosphere."

Not good.

However, it may be heartening to hear that humanity has been closer to doomsday in the past and managed to come back from the brink of self destruction. In 1953 the board declared the time on the doomsday clock to be two minutes to midnight as the United States decided to pursue the hydrogen bomb, but by 1960 the time had moved back to six minutes to midnight as it became clear that both the U.S. and Russia were eager to avoid a nuclear conflict.


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Photo: Robert Socolow, a professor at Princeton University, sits alongside the doomsday clock. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images