According to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, it is now 5 minutes to midnight. That’s one minute closer to nuclear apocalypse.
The “Doomsday Clock” is a project of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was established at the University of Chicago in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. According to the Bulletin’s website,
[These scientists] knew about the horrible effects of these new weapons and devoted themselves to warning the public about the consequences of using them. Those early scientists also worried about military secrecy, fearing that leaders might draw their countries into increasingly dangerous nuclear confrontations without the full consent of their citizens.
In 1947, the Bulletin first displayed the Clock on its magazine cover to convey, through a simple design, the perils posed by nuclear weapons. The Clock evokes both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero). In 1949, the Clock hand first moved to signal our assessment of world events and trends. 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.
On the recent advance of the clock by one minute, the Bulletin cited floundering international efforts to reduce nuclear weapons proliferation and environmental inaction more generally. This leaves the clock at 5 minutes to midnight. From a formal statement from the Bulletin:
“It 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.
Commenting on the Doomsday Clock announcement, Lawrence Krauss, co-chair, BAS Board of Sponsors, foundation professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics departments, associate director, Beyond Center, co-director, Cosmology Initiative, and director, New Origins Initiative, Arizona State University, said:
“Unfortunately, Einstein’s statement in 1946 that ‘everything has changed, save the way we think,’ remains true. The provisional developments of two years ago have not been sustained, and it makes sense to move the clock closer to midnight, back to the value it had in 2007. Faced with clear and present dangers of nuclear proliferation and climate change, and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, world leaders are failing to change business as usual. Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock. 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, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”
The January 9th panel that came to the decision apparently discussed the future of nuclear technology after the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima. Needless to say, the outcome seems bleak. But hey, nuclear physicists were never the optimistic types anyhow.