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A minute safer but still too close to doomsday

Posted by Peter Wilk, MD on January 14, 2010


In simultaneous events in London and New York, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) moved the hands of the Doomsday clock back one minute (to six minutes to midnight) to indicate that we are a tiny bit safer and more hopeful of preventing a nuclear or climate catastrophe. Since its creation in 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been a symbolic barometer of the heightening or lessening nuclear threat – and, more recently, catastrophic global warming.  The clock has been moved 18 times since making its first appearance on the 1947 cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

The reason for this positive change, according to BAS experts,  are the collaborative efforts by world leaders to reduce nuclear arsenals, make nuclear bomb-making materials more secure, pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and in general, generate a more hopeful state of affairs globally. The Bulletin also stressed that President Barack Obama’s leadership and vision for a nuclear weapon free world, along with his push for deeper reduction in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and efforts to initiate negotiations with Iran to close its nuclear enrichment program, were all positive signs of progress that affected the decision to push the clock back.

So, should the U.S. and the world breathe a big sigh of relief now that we are minute safer from doomsday? Well, not so fast! As the world renowned physicist Dr. Lawrence Krauss announced at the press event, moving the clock back only a minute highlights the precariousness of the current global situation and how much work is yet to be done to make us truly safe. As Dr. Krauss emphasized, there is a great potential for the hands of the clock to move in either direction depending on how the current opportunity for progress is utilized or lost.

Physicians for Social Responsibility welcomes this positive news and echoes the Bulletin’s call for action. With almost 25,000 nuclear weapons present around the world and 95% or those in U.S. and Russian stockpile, we still have a long way to go in averting a nuclear catastrophe. While there has been some progress made in completing the new START agreement and the President has repeated his commitment to bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) up for a ratification vote, much work remains to make even these modest goals a reality. Both START and CTBT ratification will need 2/3 of senators voting in the affirmative. Furthermore, it is important to remember that START and CTBT are only modest steps to achieving the true security that would only come from global elimination of nuclear weapons and arresting the threat of climate change. That’s a task that will require America to lead in reducing its nuclear stockpile and greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s an effort that   needs the support of the American people, congress and the administration. Remember, the clock is still ticking!




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