CHICAGO - January 17 - The Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists (BAS) is moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock two
minutes closer to midnight. It is now 5 minutes to midnight. Reflecting
global failures to solve the problems posed by nuclear weapons and the
climate crisis, the decision by the BAS Board of Directors was made in
consultation with the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel
BAS announced the Clock change today at an unprecedented joint news
conference held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science
in Washington, DC, and the Royal Society in London. In a statement
supporting the decision to move the hand of the Doomsday Clock, the BAS
Board focused on two major sources of catastrophe: the perils of 27,000
nuclear weapons, 2000 of them ready to launch within minutes; and the
destruction of human habitats from climate change. In articles by 14
leading scientists and security experts writing in the January-February
issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
(http://www.thebulletin.org), the potential for catastrophic damage from
human-made technologies is explored further.
Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday
Clock has been adjusted only 17 times prior to today, most recently in
February 2002 after the events of 9/11.
By moving the hand of the Clock closer to midnight -- the figurative
end of civilization -- the BAS Board of Directors is drawing attention to
the increasing dangers from the spread of nuclear weapons in a world of
violent conflict, and to the catastrophic harm from climate change that is
unfolding. The BAS statement explains: "We stand at the brink of a Second
Nuclear Age. Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices. North Korea's recent
test of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a renewed emphasis on
the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure
nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear
weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a failure to
solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth."
The BAS statement continues: "The dangers posed by climate change are
nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons. The effects may be less
dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by
nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change
could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies
depend for survival."
Stephen Hawking, a BAS sponsor, professor of mathematics at the
University of Cambridge, and a fellow of The Royal Society, said: "As
scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their
devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and
technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change
life on Earth. As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public
to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we
foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render
nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change."
Kennette Benedict, executive director, Bulletin of the Atomic
Scientists, said: "As we stand at the brink of a Second Nuclear Age and at
the onset of unprecedented climate change, our way of thinking about the
uses and control of technologies must change to prevent unspeakable
destruction and future human suffering."
Sir Martin Rees, president of The Royal Society, professor of cosmology
and astrophysics, master of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge,
and a BAS sponsor, said: "Nuclear weapons still pose the most catastrophic
and immediate threat to humanity, but climate change and emerging
technologies in the life sciences also have the potential to end
civilization as we know it."
Lawrence M. Krauss, professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western
Reserve University, an a BAS sponsor, said: "In these dangerous times,
scientists have a responsibility to speak truth to power especially if it
might provoke actions to reduce threats from the preventable technological
dangers currently facing humanity. To do anything else would be negligent."
Ambassador Thomas Pickering, a BAS director and co-chair of the
International Crisis Group, said: "Although our current situation is dire,
we have the means today to successfully address these global problems. For
example, through vigorous diplomacy and international agencies like the
International Atomic Energy Agency, we can negotiate and implement
agreements that could protect us all from the most destructive technology
on Earth- nuclear weapons."
Highlights of the new statement from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists
include the following:
* "The second nuclear era, unlike the dawn of the first nuclear age in
1945, is characterized by a world of porous national borders, rapid
communications that facilitate the spread of technical knowledge, and
expanded commerce in potentially dangerous dual-use technologies and
materials. The Pakistan-based network that provided nuclear
technologies to Libya, North Korea, and Iran, is an example of the new
challenges confronting the international community."
* "Sixteen years after the end of the Cold War, following substantial
reductions in nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia, the two
major powers have now stalled in their progress toward deeper reductions
in their arsenals."
* "More than 1400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and approximately
500 tons of plutonium are distributed worldwide at some 140 sites, in
unguarded civilian power plants and university research reactors, as
well as in military facilities."
* "Global warming poses a dire threat to human civilization that is second
only to nuclear weapons. Through flooding and desertification, climate
change threatens the habitats and agricultural resources that societies
depend upon for survival. As such, climate change is also likely to
contribute to mass migrations and even to wars over arable land, water,
and other natural resources."
* "The prospect of civilian nuclear power development in countries around
the world raises further concerns about the availability of nuclear
materials. Growth in nuclear power is anticipated to be especially high
in Asia, where Japan is planning to bring on line five new plants by
2010, and China intends to build 30 nuclear reactors by 2020."
* "Several factors are driving the turn to nuclear power -- aging nuclear
reactors, rising energy demands, a desire to diversify energy portfolios
and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and the need to reduce carbon
emissions that cause climate change. Yet expansion of nuclear power
increases the risks of nuclear proliferation."
The BAS statement also outlines a number of steps that, if taken
immediately, could help to prevent disaster, including the following:
* Reduce the launch readiness of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces and
completely remove nuclear weapons from the day-to-day operations of
* Reduce the number of nuclear weapons by dismantling, storing, and
destroying more than 20,000 warheads over the next 10 years, as well as
greatly increasing efforts to locate, store, and secure nuclear
materials in Russia and elsewhere.
* Stop production of nuclear weapons material, including highly enriched
uranium and plutonium-whether in military or civilian facilities.
* Engage in serious and candid discussion about the potential expansion of
nuclear power worldwide. While nuclear energy production does not
produce carbon dioxide, it does raise other significant concerns, such
as the health and environmental hazards of nuclear waste, the production
of nuclear materials that can be diverted to the production of weapons,
and the safety and security of the plants themselves.
ABOUT BAS AND THE CLOCK
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by University
of Chicago scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project and were
deeply concerned about the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. In 1947
the Bulletin introduced its clock to convey the perils posed by nuclear
weapons through a simple design. The Doomsday Clock evoked both the imagery
of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion
(countdown to zero). In 1949 Bulletin leaders realized that movement of the
minute hand would signal the organization's assessment of world events. The
decision to move the minute hand is made by the Bulletin's Board of
Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18
Nobel Laureates. The Bulletin's Doomsday Clock has become a universally
recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to nuclear weapons and
other threats. Additional information is available on the Web at