By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 18, 2007
The Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' ticking nudge to the world's conscience, moved two minutes closer to nuclear midnight yesterday, the closest to doomsday it has been since the Cold War.
North Korea's nuclear bomb test, Iran's nuclear plans, and atomic energy projects posed as an answer to climate change prompted the scientific journal to move the hands of the 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, editor of the journal, 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 made a statement at a joint news conference in Washington and London yesterday. "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 timepiece came within two minutes of midnight. In 1991, after the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the clock moved the farthest from doomsday it has ever been, to 11:43.
"Bush the father's policy decisions produced the biggest one-time move away from midnight the clock ever experienced and Bush the son's policy decisions have pushed the clock almost as close to midnight as it's ever been," said Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University and a former member of the Atomic Scientists board that sets the clock.
Yesterday's announcement was attended by scientists and policymakers including Stephen Hawking, an astrophysicist, author and University of Cambridge mathematics professor; Sir Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society; and Leon Lederman, director emeritus of the Fermi Laboratory.
Thomas Pickering, co-chairman 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, especially when there is time."