Group Cites Rising Nuclear Policy Fears in Resetting 'Doomsday Clock'

by Robert E. Pierre

CHICAGO, FEB.27 — The so-called Doomsday Clock moved two ticks closer to midnight today, a sign that, at least according to a group of scientists, the world is more dangerous than it was yesterday.p. The reasons? A growing concern about the security of stockpiled nuclear weapons, the rising disparity between rich and poor nations and the Bush administration’s rejection of various arms control treaties.

“Despite a campaign promise to rethink nuclear policy, the Bush administration has taken no significant steps to alter nuclear targeting policies or reduce the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces,” said George A. Lopez, the University of Notre Dame professor who chairs Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which first published the clock in 1947. The world has changed considerably since then. But as of today — at least on the nuclear clock — it’s right back where it started: seven minutes before midnight.

Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, symbolically moved the big hand of the “clock” forward at a news conference this morning at the University of Chicago.

It was the 17th time the Doomsday Clock has been reset in its 55-year history. The previous time was in June 1998, when it moved from 14 minutes to nine minutes before midnight. After moving the clock today, Lederman lamented that the United States and the former Soviet Union had built nuclear weapons to such “absurd” levels.

And his colleagues said that’s one of the chief reasons to keep notifying the public about nuclear dangers, even if it means using an imprecise measuring stick. The clock was created by Chicago artist Martyl Langsdorf, who chose the original position of the hands merely as a visual way to symbolize urgency.

“This is not a scientific or precision instrument,” said Stephen I. Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin.

The scientists at today’s news conference said that the resetting of the clock was prompted only in part by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Rather, a major factor was the lack of movement on nuclear disarmament, given that more than 31,000 nuclear weapons are still maintained by the eight known nuclear powers.

While the threat of the Soviet Union intentionally attacking the United States has decreased, Lopez said the massive stockpile as well as the recent crisis between India and Pakistan are scary.

The clock might have moved even closer to midnight, Lopez said, if not for the 187 governments that have signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - though the United States was not among them- and France’s decision to dismantle its Pacific nuclear test site.

Rooting out poverty, he said, is key to making the world safer.

“Poverty and repression breed anger and desperation,” Lopez said. “Success depends on eradicating the conditions that feed such terror.”

February 28, 2002

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