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Intro: "Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007."

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced it has moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to five minutes to midnight, 01/10/12. (photo: Getty Images)
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced it has moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock to five minutes to midnight, 01/10/12. (photo: Getty Images)

Doomsday Clock Moves to Five Minutes to Midnight

By Science and Security Board, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

11 January 12


t is five minutes to midnight. Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.

Nuclear Disarmament

Despite the promise of a new spirit of international cooperation, and reductions in tensions between the United States and Russia, the Science and Security Board believes that the path toward a world free of nuclear weapons is not at all clear, and leadership is failing. The ratification in December 2010 of the New START treaty between Russia and the United States reversed the previous drift in US-Russia nuclear relations. However, failure to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea and on a treaty to cut off production of nuclear weapons material continues to leave the world at risk from continued development of nuclear weapons. The world still has approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the Earth's inhabitants several times over. The Nuclear Security Summit of 2010 shone a spotlight on securing all nuclear fissile material, but few actions have been taken. The result is that it is still possible for radical groups to acquire and use highly enriched uranium and plutonium to wreak havoc in nuclear attacks.

Obstacles to a world free of nuclear weapons remain. Among these are disagreements between the United States and Russia about the utility and purposes of missile defense, as well as insufficient transparency, planning, and cooperation among the nine nuclear weapons states to support a continuing drawdown. The resulting distrust leads nearly all nuclear weapons states to hedge their bets by modernizing their nuclear arsenals. While governments claim they are only ensuring the safety of their warheads through replacement of bomb components and launch systems, as the deliberate process of arms reduction proceeds, such developments appear to other states to be signs of substantial military build-ups.

The Science and Security Board also reviewed progress in meeting the challenges of nuclear weapons proliferation. Ambiguity about Iran's nuclear power program continues to be the most prominent example of this unsolved problem - centrifuges can enrich uranium for both civilian power plants and military weapons. It remains to be seen how many additional countries will pursue nuclear power, but without solutions to the dual-use problem and without incentives sufficient to resist military applications, the world is playing with the explosive potential of a million suns and a fire that will not go out.

The potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and particularly in South Asia is also alarming. Ongoing efforts to ease tensions, deal with extremism and terrorist acts, and reduce the role of nuclear weapons in international relations have had only halting success. Yet we believe that international diplomatic pressure as well as burgeoning citizen action will help political leaders to see the folly of continuing to rely on nuclear weapons for national security.

Nuclear Energy

In light of over 60 years of improving reactor designs and developing nuclear fission for safer power production, it is disheartening that the world has suffered another calamitous accident. Given this history, the Fukushima disaster raised significant questions that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board believe must be addressed. Safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters. A major question to be addressed is: How can complex systems like nuclear power stations be made less susceptible to accidents and errors in judgment?

Climate Change

In fact, the global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth's atmosphere. The International Energy Agency projects that, unless societies begin building alternatives to carbon-emitting energy technologies over the next five years, the world is doomed to a warmer climate, harsher weather, droughts, famine, water scarcity, rising sea levels, loss of island nations, and increasing ocean acidification. Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy - and emissions - for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect. Even if policy leaders decide in the future to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting technologies, it will be too late.

Among the existing alternatives for producing base-load electricity with low carbon dioxide emissions is nuclear power. Russia, China, India, and South Korea will likely continue to construct plants, enrich fuel, and shape the global nuclear power industry.
Countries that had earlier signaled interest in building nuclear power capacity, such as Vietnam, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and others, are still intent on acquiring civilian nuclear reactors for electricity despite the Fukushima disaster. However, a number of countries have renounced nuclear power, including Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. In Japan, only eight of 54 power plants currently operate because prefecture governors, responding to people's opposition to nuclear power, have not allowed reactors back online. In the United States, increased costs of additional safety measures may make nuclear power too expensive to be a realistic alternative to natural gas and other fossil fuels.

The hopeful news is that alternatives to burning coal, oil, and uranium for energy continue to show promise. Solar and photovoltaic technologies are seeing reductions in price, wind turbines are being adopted for commercial electricity, and energy conservation and efficiency are becoming accepted as sources for industrial production and residential use. Many of these developments are taking place at municipal and local levels in countries around the world. In Haiti, for example, a nonprofit group is distributing solar-powered light bulbs to the poor. In Germany, a smart electrical grid is shifting solar-generated power to cloudy regions and wind power to becalmed areas. And in California, government is placing caps on carbon emissions that industry will meet. While not perfect, these technologies and practices hold substantial promise.

Yet, we are very concerned that the pace of change may not be adequate and that the transformation that seems to be on its way will not take place in time to meet the hardships that large-scale disruption of the climate portends. As we see it, the major challenge at the heart of humanity's survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, without exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons.

The challenges to rid the world of nuclear weapons, harness nuclear power, and meet the nearly inexorable climate disruptions from global warming are complex and interconnected. In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges. The political processes in place seem wholly inadequate to meet the challenges to human existence that we confront.

As such, the Science and Security Board is heartened by the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements, political protests in Russia, and by the actions of ordinary citizens in Japan as they call for fair treatment and attention to their needs. Whether meeting the challenges of nuclear power, or mitigating the suffering from human-caused global warming, or preventing catastrophic nuclear conflict in a volatile world, the power of people is essential. For this reason, we ask other scientists and experts to join us in engaging ordinary citizens. Together, we can present the most significant questions to policymakers and industry leaders. Most important, we can demand answers and action. As the first atomic scientists of the Bulletin recognized in 1948, the burden of disseminating information about the social and economic "implications of nuclear energy and other new scientific developments rests with the intelligent citizens of the world; the intense and continuing cooperation of the scientists is assured."

Few of the Bulletin's recommendations of 2010 have been taken up; they still require urgent attention if we are to avert catastrophe from nuclear weapons and global warming. At a minimum these include:

  • Ratification by the United States and China of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and progress on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty;
  • Implementing multinational management of the civilian nuclear energy fuel cycle with strict standards for safety, security, and nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, including eliminating reprocessing for plutonium separation;
  • Strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency's capacity to oversee nuclear materials, technology development, and its transfer;
  • Adopting and fulfilling climate change agreements to reduce carbon dioxide emissions through tax incentives, harmonized domestic regulation and practice;
  • Transforming the coal power sector of the world economy to retire older plants and to require in new plants the capture and storage of the CO2 they produce;
  • Vastly increasing public and private investments in alternatives to carbon emitting energy sources, such as solar and wind, and in technologies for energy storage, and sharing the results worldwide.

The Clock is ticking.

-Science and Security Board, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+2 # pernsey 2012-01-12 00:18
Tick tick tick...
+6 # maddave 2012-01-12 00:29
These are all economic problems.

1. Under our current political/econo mic system, there is more profit to be made in developing, manufacturing, maintaining and brandishing (nuclear) arms than there is in peace and peaceful non-proliferation.
2. The costs of complying with safety regulations and the potential costs of cleaning up after system failures prices new nuclear stations out of the market. Under the current lax emission standards, fossil fuel plants are much less expensive to build & operate. (See #3, below)
3. Corporate America finds that dumping combustion gasses and particulate into the environment (air, water) is less expensive (TODAY) than cleaning up and dealing with the contaminants on scene where and when they are generated. (And, yes, I know this is a e worldwide problem, but we can only control our own contributions to this global hazard.)
+6 # X Dane 2012-01-12 01:38
We need to knock some sense into the heads of the world's leaders..... It would seem, that Germany has got it. What irony.
The country that started the conflagration in Europe,... and was nearly wiped out by the allied forces because of it,.... is now showing the most responsibility.

I am relieved that I will probably not be alive, when the worst of the disaster will strike.
But I worry about my children and grandchildren. I want them to have a good life. We mature people have to help them fight for their future, make them understand, that their lives are at risk.
We ALL must lobby our government to get them going on protecting our planet.
+4 # Glen 2012-01-12 08:45
There is a potential list that could also be included here, including such as the aggression of the U.S. and its use of radioactive materials in their weapons. Destabilizing various territories should be at the top.

The warnings have been out there for decades but the usual characteristics of warring societies will prevent any improvement. In truth, it is surprising that the clock is not much closer to midnight. Know of any takers in getting the mess under control? Me neither.
+3 # RMDC 2012-01-12 10:02
In spite of the fact that 99% of people in the world oppose nuclear weapons, there are some people inside the US military establishment (CIA, Pentagon, State Department) and some civilian war hawks (neo-cons) who really do want to use a nuclear bomb in a war. They've advocated use of nuclear bombs against N, Korea, China, Vietnam, Iraq as a way to show enemies all over the world that the US has the ultimate power and is willing to use it.

But the US has never started a war with a state that has its own nuclear weapons, so the first use of nuclear bombs would be a really blatant violations on the laws or war and the Nuclear Non-Proliferati on treaty. It would just make the US look so bad that the US may never recover its image of a legitimate nation.

But the case of the coming war against Iran may be different. Probably Iran will never develop a nuclear bomb because they know they could not use it. But that won't matter. The US and Israal will "say" that Iran has nuclear bombs and the war is about taking out those nuclear bombs. It will require the us of nuclear bombs to do this. This rationale is being set up now in world opinion. All the lies about Iran becoming a nuclear bomb state are working to justify the first use of nuclear bombs. Once the door is open, we can expect to see nuclear bombs used in many American wars.

The leaders of the neo-con / Israeli nuke Iran now movement are Ledeen, Woolsey, Podhoretz, Bolton.
+4 # geraldom 2012-01-12 10:45
Everyone is concerned about Pakistan & its nuclear arsenal. The biggest threat to nuclear war, & we're a lot closer than 5 minutes to one, is the U.S. and Israel. Israel can very well be the trigger to a nuclear conflict if they attack Iran with the bunker buster bombs that the Obama admin sold them when Obama took office in 2009.

If Israel carries out its threat to attack Iran's nuclear facilities with these bunker buster bombs, which, by international law, would be an act of war, Iran has the legal right to counterattack Israel, & they can inflict a tremendous amount of damage to Israel, much more than Saddam could have done in his hay day.

If this exchange happens, Israel will then counterattack Iran with a much larger attack than just bunker buster bombs. And, at some point, Israel might even use one or more of those nonexistent nukes that they claim they don't have. The U.S. would, at some point in this exchange, have to get involved, probably even by design, & Russia & China will most likely end up getting involved, especially if Israel were to use any of their nukes against Iran.

This is the most dangerous point for a nuclear confrontation, & it's something that is more probable than not to happen if both the U.S. & Israel don't back off from their threatening positions.

And, if Israel & the U.S. continue to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists, then Iran may begin a tit-for-tat process of knocking ours off as well.
+3 # reiverpacific 2012-01-12 10:59
What level of disaster is it going to take to ban all of it forever? Fukushima was obviously not enough and the planet can't afford too many more of these.
At least Germany's Merkel IMMEDIATELY put the kybosh on ALL nuclear development with a few other nations, as the article states, neglecting to mention that the same country is now requiring a percentage of all new buildings and facilities be solar powered and leads the world in solar energy development along with some smaller nations who are doing their bit.
And don't ever kid yourselves that the development of nuclear energy is ever going to provide anything but a military power-enhanceme nt hub!
Those who shout "Impractical" at clean power tend to cite cost vs requirements quotients but if the military were less of a priority, just a small percentage of the death-machine budget (and the most polluting and destructive entity on the planet) would assure research, development and construction of a clean infrastructure become practical and also create huge new industries and jobs.
And yet the nuclear industry is being courted for resurrection by a self-styled "change" president
Y'know, I've often wondered why Iran is so hot to develop nuclear when they have sun in spades and could be interacting with the likes of Germany in development of their own solar industry to be a good example to their neighbors.
Collective insanity rules, I tell you!
+2 # James Marcus 2012-01-12 12:55
There is Big Easy Money (unquestioned budgets and expenditures without oversight) Mischief and Conflict.
There is much need to spend it 'Elsewhere' (roads, health, helping each-other, etc), but those roads are rough, without much 'Easy Fat'.
Guess which road the Scoundrels choose, every time?
GET THE MONEY OUT! (the Maggots will self-disappear)
+1 # sheila Cee 2012-01-12 14:22
Iran has seen US aggression against its neighbors and in my opinion wants nuclear weapons as a deterrent against US aggression.

The hawks in Washington want another war to keep their military/indust rial complex thriving and to hopefully acquire control over its resources.

The Iranian leaders know that any nuclear attack against us or Israel will draw the full wrath of the US nuclear arsenal upon them and totally wipe them out.


ANother frightening situation will occur if the US attacks Iran. Both Russia and China have vowed to come to the aid of Iran if we attack it.

+1 # RMDC 2012-01-12 15:06
Sheila -- It would actually be WW IV. The cold war was WW III. It killed just as many people as WW I, though not as many as WW II. It was just fought as proxy wars between the two superpowers, each afraid to take on the other directly because of their nuclear weapons.

WW III was fought on all continents. It was just a horrible as WW I and II. More tons of bombs were dropped on Vietnam than in all wars in human history. More tons of chemical weapons were used against Vietnam and Korea than ever before.

World War IV will be a one-sided massacre of 10 of millions of people. Military power in the world is to lopsided with US having more destructive power than all nations on earth by a large margin. But the US cannot defeat anyone with all these weapons because it is basically fighting civilian populations which, unlike militaries, cannot surrender. The US can just kill and destroy until it destroys itself from bankruptcy and the moral depravity of its people. World War IV will be the suicide war of the US, though 99% of the dead will be in other countries and will be civilians.

The US will go to war against Russia and China. IT will not be a ground war because the US could not win that and very many US soldiers would be killed. Instead, the US will simply bomb from long distances.
+1 # Glen 2012-01-13 06:33
Thanks for bringing up the differentiation between wars. Folks don't realize just how much warfare was being conducted during the cold war. Yes, of course, world war is coming, and regardless of all evidence and motives offered from both government and citizens, it continues to be puzzling why the U.S. and Israel stir that pot, knowing full well what the result will be, most especially for Israel, regardless of how many nukes they have. World governments and citizens are not going to sit still for any of this.
+1 # billymathew 2012-01-13 10:02
Is nuclear bomb the ultimate weapon? If the editorial in the New York Time (8 January, 2012) is an indication, the US scientists have created the ultimate weapon: genetically modified flu' virus in a laboratory, which can kill hundreds of millions of people if released into the air. Whereas a Hiroshima type nuclear bomb can kill hundred thousand people. Scientists with some understanding of genetic mutation can manufacture such virus in a laboratory no bigger than a commercial kitchen.
It is time world leaders stop resources wars and crusades against Muslims as the US has been doing and start talking peace for the survival of humanity.

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