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The doomsday clock – a theoretical device that purports to tell us how close we are to a nuclear apocalypse – has frozen at five minutes to midnight, unchanged from last year. Physicists tell the head of the UN there is little reason to move it back.
The visual metaphor has held its appeal for more than 60 years now. The hands of time are moved in accordance with the analyses of a special board of scientists who ponder international threats, especially those having to do with nuclear armaments.
From: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board
To: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, members of the UN Security Council
Re: It is still five minutes to midnight
In 2013, the world made limited strides toward reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons, most notable among them an interim agreement between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (or P5 + 1) and Iran on a “joint plan of action” for reaching a long-term solution to international concern about the Iranian nuclear program. Also, in the last year a significant number of countries have taken steps to reduce their stocks of weapons-grade fissile material and to tighten security on the nuclear stores that remain.
Overall, however, in 2013 the international community dealt with the continuing, potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear weapons in a business-as-usual manner, meaning that outsized nuclear arsenals remain in the United States and Russia, and the nuclear arsenals of some countries—notably India, Pakistan, and China—appear to be growing. The interim Iranian deal notwithstanding, the international community has not come to grips with an unfortunate reality: The spread of civilian nuclear power around the world—which continues apace, despite the disaster at Fukushima—also spreads the potential for new nuclear weapons states.
The unlearned lessons of nuclear power. Following the March 11, 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station—the third major catastrophe at a commercial nuclear power station since the dawn of the nuclear age—public opinion shifted strongly against deployment of nuclear power, in Japan and elsewhere. Germany and Switzerland decided to terminate their nuclear power programs; a number of other nations, including China and the United States, carried out safety re-assessments.
With the passage of time, however, it has become clear the world is not moving away from nuclear power on a wholesale basis. Indeed, there are distinct signs of a nuclear resurgence, especially in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and especially among nations that have heretofore not engaged in its use. Abu Dhabi and Vietnam have pushed forward with the purchase of new nuclear power plants, and other nations in these regions are making nuclear plans. China has resumed construction of more than two dozen nuclear power plants it was building pre-Fukushima; the United Kingdom is evaluating a return to nuclear construction.
These developments make it ever more urgent that the lessons to be learned from three catastrophic civilian nuclear accidents—Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Daiichi—are heeded. Among the most important of those lessons is the need for an independent nuclear regulatory body in every country with nuclear power, answerable only to the highest national authorities and open to public scrutiny. Without effective oversight of nuclear power, the world is likely to see more catastrophic accidents.
"As always, new technologies hold the promise of doing great good, supplying new sources of clean energy, curing disease, and otherwise enhancing our lives. From experience, however, we also know that new technologies can be used to diminish humanity and destroy societies," wrote the scientists on the board.
"We can manage our technology, or become victims of it. The choice is ours, and the Clock is ticking," they added.
Back in 1947, the clock had showed seven minutes to midnight. In 1953, things looked the most critical in the clock’s entire history to date: they showed two minutes to midnight, following the US and Russian nitrogen bomb tests, spaced only nine months apart.
Specifically, once there [at the table], “they should take the courageous steps needed to further shrink their nuclear arsenals, to scrap their deployment of destabilizing missile defenses, and to reduce the alert levels of their nuclear weapons.”
The group is also unhappy with the progress the UN has made in the field of climate sustainability and negotiations on policies in that area. The threat of global warming, they say, is still real. After all, since 2007, they claim the clock reflects not only nuclear catastrophe, but also climate change.
'2 Minutes To Midnight' was written by Adrian Smith and Bruce Dickinson.
The song has references to the Doomsday Clock, the symbolic clock used by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In September 1953 the clock reached 23:58, the closest it ever got to midnight. This occurred when the United States and Soviet Union tested H-bombs within nine months of one another. Despite popular belief, the song does not reference Cuban missile crisis, nor did the Doomsday Clock note any change related to it. In fact, at the time of the crisis, the clock was showing seven minutes to midnight. In 1984, when the song was recorded, the clock was showing three minutes to midnight