Doomsday Clock Moves Closer to Midnight

The hands on the nuclear "doomsday clock" are being moved two minutes closer to midnight, in a decision by the Board of Directors of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. On the clock, midnight represents global catastrophe.

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DANIEL SCHORR: Time to move the dial on that old doomsday clock again.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

Senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: The doomsday clock was a creation of nuclear scientists who were appalled at the bomb they had created, and were now looking for a way to warn the world of their handiwork.

In 1947, not long after Hiroshima, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set its first clock. It stood at seven minutes to midnight, midnight denoting global catastrophe.

It edged up to two minutes to midnight in 1953, after Soviet and American tests of thermonuclear bombs. That was the closest to midnight it ever came. The furthest was a reassuring 17 minutes to midnight in 1991, after the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. signed arms control treaties.

The year 2002, following the 9-11 attacks, opened a whole new nail-biting era. North Korea and Iran represented grave threats. So did some 2,000 launch-ready Russian nuclear weapons. So did terrorists, whose ability to acquire nuclear weapons represented a vexing unknown.

And so, the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pondered and moved their doomsday clock from nine minutes to midnight, to seven minutes to midnight - the same place it started 55 years before. And there it remained until today.

Today, the scientists took note of the spread of nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency believes that up to 30 countries have the capability, and increasingly the motivation, to develop nuclear weapons quickly.

And so today, the scientists announced the arrival of the second nuclear age. And on that clock located in a room at the University of Chicago, they moved the minute hand from seven minutes to midnight, to five minutes to midnight. The scientists may enjoy this game of nuclear countdown to catastrophe. After all, they started it.

This is Daniel Schorr.

NORRIS: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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