- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

No need to reset your watch, but it’s five minutes to midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

Without even consulting the Mayan calendar - which famously predicts the end of the world this year - the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Tuesday set the clock’s minute hand one digit closer to the midnight hour, which signifies global catastrophe and human extinction.

The scientists said they reset the clock because of the failure of international efforts to stop nuclear weapons proliferation and global climate change.

“World leaders are failing to change business as usual,” said Lawrence Krauss, co-chair of the Bulletin's Board of Sponsors and professor at Arizona State University.


The Bulletin was founded by the members of the top secret Manhattan Project, who developed America’s first atomic bomb during the closing years of World War II. The clock was created in 1947 to dramatize the possibility of human extinction presented by nuclear weapons.

When they created it, the scientists set the clock at three minutes to midnight. The hands came as close as two minutes to midnight in 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union both tested H-bombs — nuclear weapons which harnessed atomic fusion, the power of the sun itself.

Scientists said their decision to move the hands closer to midnight was based in part on concern about Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran is an example of how tough it is to allow the development of peaceful nuclear power without the risk of proliferating atomic bombs, the Bulletin's board declared in statement.

The centrifuges Tehran is running can enrich uranium for both civilian power plants and military weapons.

“The world is playing with the explosive potential of a million suns and a fire that will not go out,” the scientists warned.

The clock was last moved two years ago, in January 2010, when hopes for progress on nuclear arms reduction, proliferation controls and carbon emission reductions caused the scientists to move the time one minute further away from midnight, to six minutes to.

“The provisional developments of two years ago have not been sustained, and it makes sense to move the clock closer to midnight,” said Prof. Krauss.

The furthest the clock has ever been from midnight was in 1991, after the end of the cold war and the first round of strategic arms reductions under the START treaty between the United States and the old Soviet Union. Scientists set it at 17 minutes to midnight.

But in 1995, disappointed with the extent of the so-called peace dividend, they moved it forward to 14 minutes to midnight and the hands inched forward every couple of years or so thereafter until 2010.