- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2007

It was always a symbol and no more, but a powerful one. The keepers of the so-called Doomsday Clock, which first began ticking in 1947, are expected to turn the clock’s stark hands ahead this morning to reflect the increasing risk of nuclear Armageddon.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cites Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea, unsecured Russian materials, the continued existence of 2,000 “launch-ready” U.S. and Russian nukes, terrorism and the climate-induced turn to civilian nuclear power to explain the move. It’s worth noting that the clock will now be closer to midnight than at any point since the end of the Cold War — which is as troubling as it is fitting and justified.

Since 1945, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has assessed and publicized the major nuclear issues of the day, not always perfectly, as it turned out, but always to the end of bettering public awareness of the nuclear peril. There can be no second-guessing the turning of the clock now. Not with the mortal dangers of the present moment in world history.

We face Iranian nuclear ambitions that are, as far as Westerners can surmise, lacking in peaceable intent what they have in determination and couple with vows to wipe Israel off the map — all while Iran supports the type of radical terrorists who are themselves most likely suitors of nuclear weaponry. We face an inscrutable North Korea, which proudly announces the Korean bomb, fires missiles over sovereign neighbors’ territory and deals in the world’s worst nuclear-proliferation rings. We face the ongoing possibility that fissile material and critical nuclear technology could leak from old Soviet missile sites — including the possibility that such leakage has already taken place.

American and Russian arsenals, though surely less dangerous than they once were, are still perilous in the event of accident or unforeseeable calamity, and the Russian arsenal faces its own unique set of circumstances. Its ruler’s soul may have been seen by President Bush, famously, but to no end but trouble. Vladimir Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule is suggestive of, if not outright borrowed from, the bad old days of Soviet Communism. There is the potential, too, for a nuclear arsenal to fall into the hands of a collapsing or post-coup government.

Lastly there is renewed interest in civilian nuclear technology inspired in part by hopes that its use could stem global warming. We heartily support the expansion of civilian applications of nuclear technology but have no doubt that, all else being equal, this increases to some debatable degree the vulnerability and exposure of nuclear materials to the wider population, including to those terrorists and persons who aim to use them wrongly — especially in the developing world.

The clock is ticking, and no observer can possibly be positioned to claim that the warnings were insufficient. We can hear the ticking, loud and clear.

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