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At the most recent annual Doomsday Clock press-conference, held in Washington, the nobel-prizewinner-heavy advisers of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, itself founded by Einstein and Oppenhiemer in the 1940s, revealed that it had been decided to keep the hands of its iconic and symbolic 'Doomsday Clock' at three minutes to midnight. This is bad news for civilisation and humans as a species.

The 'Doomsday Clock' has been used since 1947 as a symbol of the closeness or otherwise of civilisation to self-destruction. It has been at three minutes to midnight only during the most terrifying parts of the cold – war, notably in 1983, a year in which the world nearly ended not once but twice, on Sept26'83 when Colonel Stanislav Petrov saved the world from destruction amid wailing sirens at Serpukhov-15, and a month later in the more prolonged Able Archer crisis bought about by US and NATO nuclear excercises which were thought by the Soviet leadership to be a cover for a first – strike against the USSR.
Former US secretary of defence Bill Perry, at the Doomsday clock press
conference, repeatedly stated that in his view, the current situation is actually more dangerous than it was in 1983. This is extraordinary and frightening.
The only reasons, it seems, that the clock was not advanced to, say, two-and-a-half minutes to midnight was because of the 'relative bright spots' of the Paris agreement on Climate Change, and the Iran nuclear deal.
PND has suggested that two-and-a-half minutes to midnight might have been an appropriate move for the Doomsday Clock hands. However, the ONLY time the Doomsday Clock-hands have been closer than three mins to midnight was in 1953, in the immediate wake of the first H-Bomb tests.
However, in the Doomsday Clock sponsors own words:
Three minutes is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus their efforts and the world’s attention on reducing the extreme danger posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their countries.”(emphasis mine)
and they concluded:
Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: 'The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.' That probability has not been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders should act—immediately.”
In the meantime, a new study conducted and released yesterday by the British-American Security Council (BASIC) has concluded, with other similar studies, that a new generation has grown up since the Cold War, 'blissfully unaware' of the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. Thier minds, unlike those of us who were young in the '80s and who demonstrated in our hundreds of thousands against nuclear weapons, could not be further from the grave warnings of the Doomsday Clock. According to Tariq Rauf of SIPRI:
This new generation is blissfully unaware and thus unconcerned about nuclear weapon arsenals – as nuclear weapons have no relevance to their make-believe worlds of Twitter or Facebook – but they will be in for a rude awakening, should unfortunately, a nuclear detonation occur whether by accident or by non-State actor actions ”.
It is clear from the warnings of the scientific and research community that nuclear weapons continue to pose the single most urgent threat to civilisation and to humans as a species. Nuclear war is far from a forgotten apocalypse: It can happen now or yesterday, and the risks of it doing so are as great as they have ever been. Yet one of the deepest concerns of the Doomsday Clock sponsors is the complete absence of the subject of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament from political debate, particularly in the US.
The governments of the world must therefore regard the elimination of nuclear weapons as per the oft-repeated requirements of article VI of the NPT as a security priority of absolutely existential importance. The continued existence of civilisation and humans as a species depends on it.
John Hallam
United Nations Nuclear Disarmament Campaigner,
People for Nuclear Disarmament (PND) NSW,
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ,


22 January 2016

It is still three minutes to midnight

Lynn EdenRobert RosnerRod EwingLawrence M. KraussSivan KarthaThomas R.
PickeringRaymond T. PierrehumbertRamamurti RajaramanJennifer
SimsRichard C. J. SomervilleSharon SquassoniDavid Titley

Lynn Eden

Eden is a member of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board and a
senior research scholar and associate...

Rod Ewing

Ewing is the Edward H. Kraus University Professor in the Department of
Earth and Environmental...

Sivan Kartha

Kartha is a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute
and co-leader of an institute-wide theme Managing Climate...

Lawrence M. Krauss is a theoretical physicist, chair of the Bulletin's
Board of Sponsors, and the director of the Origins Project...

Thomas R. Pickering

The co-chair of the International Crisis Group, Pickering served as
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (1989-1992), India...

Raymond T. Pierrehumbert

Pierrehumbert is Louis Block Professor in Geophysical Sciences at the
University of Chicago. He was a lead author on...

Ramamurti Rajaraman

Rajaraman is emeritus professor of physics at Jawaharlal Nehru
University, co-chair of the International Panel on Fissile...

Robert Rosner

Rosner is the William E. Wrather distinguished service professor in
the departments of Astronomy and Astrophysics...

Jennifer Sims

A member of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, Sims is
director of intelligence...

Richard C. J. Somerville

Somerville is Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of...

Sharon Squassoni

Sharon Squassoni, a member of the Bulletin’s Science and Security
Board, has directed the Proliferation Prevention Program at the...

David Titley

David Titley is a nationally known expert in the field of climate, the
Arctic, and national security.  He served as a...

From: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board

To: Leaders and citizens of the world

Re: It is still three minutes to midnight

In the past year, the international community has made some positive
strides in regard to humanity's two most pressing existential threats,
nuclear weapons and climate change. In July 2015, at the end of nearly
two years of negotiations, six world powers and Iran reached a
historic agreement that limits the Iranian nuclear program and aims to
prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weaponry. And in December of
last year, nearly 200 countries agreed in Paris to a process by which
they will attempt to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, aiming
to keep the increase in world temperature well below 2.0 degrees
Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

The Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord are major
diplomatic achievements, but they constitute only small bright spots
in a darker world situation full of potential for catastrophe.

Even as the Iran agreement was hammered out, tensions between the
United States and Russia rose to levels reminiscent of the worst
periods of the Cold War. Conflict in Ukraine and Syria continued,
accompanied by dangerous bluster and brinkmanship, with Turkey, a NATO
member, shooting down a Russian warplane involved in Syria, the
director of a state-run Russian news agency making statements about
turning the United States to radioactive ash, and NATO and Russia
repositioning military assets and conducting significant exercises
with them. Washington and Moscow continue to adhere to most existing
nuclear arms control agreements, but the United States, Russia, and
other nuclear weapons countries are engaged in programs to modernize
their nuclear arsenals, suggesting that they plan to keep and maintain
the readiness of their nuclear weapons for decades, at least—despite
their pledges, codified in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to
pursue nuclear disarmament.

Promising though it may be, the Paris climate agreement came toward
the end of Earth's warmest year on record, with the increase in global
temperature over pre-industrial levels surpassing one degree Celsius.
Voluntary pledges made in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions are
insufficient to the task of averting drastic climate change. They are,
at best, incremental moves toward the fundamental change in world
energy systems that must occur, if climate change is to ultimately be

Because the diplomatic successes on Iran and in Paris have been
offset, at least, by negative events in the nuclear and climate
arenas, the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science
and Security Board find the world situation to be highly threatening
to humanity—so threatening that the hands of the Doomsday Clock must
remain at three minutes to midnight, the closest they've been to
catastrophe since the early days of above-ground hydrogen bomb

Last year, we wrote that world leaders had failed to act with the
speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from the danger
posed by climate change and nuclear war, and that those failures
endangered every person on Earth. In keeping the hands of the Doomsday
Clock at three minutes to midnight, the members of the Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board mean to make a clear
statement: The world situation remains highly threatening to humanity,
and decisive action to reduce the danger posed by nuclear weapons and
climate change is urgently required.

A promising Iran agreement within a dangerous nuclear situation. The
year 2015 abounded in disturbing nuclear rhetoric, particularly about
the usability of nuclear weapons, but contained at least one real
achievement: the landmark Iran nuclear deal. The Joint Comprehensive
Plan of Action (JCPOA) that the United States, China, Russia, Germany,
France, and the United Kingdom reached with Iran in July 2015 ends
several decades of uncertainty about Tehran’s nuclear capabilities.
The agreement will test the resolve of all parties to move forward and
build trust, but it has the potential to transform the nuclear
nonproliferation landscape in the Middle East as well as provide
impetus for sorely needed innovations in the nonproliferation regime.
The JCPOA covered the bases, capping the numbers and kinds of
uranium-enrichment centrifuges Iran can possess, placing limits on
that country's stockpile of enriched uranium, and converting the
sensitive Fordow facility into a research center. The agreement also
irreversibly transforms Iran’s Arak research reactor so Iran cannot
produce and retain plutonium. The inclusion of long-term monitoring of
Iran’s uranium and other nuclear supply chains will strengthen
confidence that Iran has no clandestine sites. A credible effort to
monitor Iran's compliance with the accord could demonstrate new
technologies and approaches for reducing the risks of nuclear

The ability of key nuclear weapon states to cooperate on nuclear
non-proliferation is one of the few bright spots in the world nuclear
landscape; the United States and Russia continue to make reductions in
deployed nuclear warheads under the new START treaty. But nuclear
modernization programs—designed to maintain capabilities for the next
half-century—also proceed apace. The Russians will have fewer
launchers, but their future force will be more mobile and have more
flexibly targeted warheads. The United States plans to spend $350
billion in the next 10 years to maintain and modernize its nuclear
forces and infrastructure, despite rhetoric about a nuclear
weapons-free world. With no follow-on arms control agreement in sight
and deeply disturbing nuclear rhetoric issuing from Russia, the risks
of short launch times, of large warhead stockpiles, and of narrowing
channels for averting crisis recall the dark days of the Cold War.

Conflict over free passage in the South China Sea is another worrisome
development. China's territorial claims to islands there—some of which
it has enlarged for military purposes—are contested primarily by
countries in the region. But as legally justifiable as they may be,
recent US efforts to assert a right of free passage in the South China
Sea by sending a naval vessel and airplanes close to those islands
have the potential to escalate into major conflict between nuclear

The prospects for nuclear arms control beyond the United States and
Russia are, in the near term, unfavorable. China, Pakistan, India, and
North Korea are all increasing their nuclear arsenals, albeit at
different rates. China’s recent agreement to help Pakistan build
nuclear missile submarine platforms is a matter of concern, but
probably less so than other developments in Pakistan’s arsenal,
including improvements to its ballistic missiles and air-launched
cruise missiles and its aggressive rhetoric regarding the use of
tactical nuclear weapons to “de-escalate” a conventional conflict
(rhetoric that is unfortunately similar to Russia's own
"de-escalation" doctrine). Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un
announced at the end of the year that his country had developed a
hydrogen bomb and followed through with a test on January 5, 2016. So
far, experts assess that it likely was not a two-stage thermonuclear
weapon, but there is little doubt that North Korea will continue to
develop its nuclear arsenal in the absence of restraints.

The world may be used to outrageous rhetoric from North Korea, but
officials in several other countries made irresponsible comments in
2015 about raising the alert status of nuclear weapon systems,
acquiring nuclear capabilities, and even using nuclear weapons. We
hope that, as an unintended consequence of such rhetoric, citizens
will be galvanized to address risks they thought long contained. The
more likely outcome is that nuclear bombast will raise the temperature
in crisis situations. The maintenance of peace requires that nuclear
rhetoric and actions be tamped down.

A mixed response to climate change. The year 2015 was one of mixed
developments in regard to the threat of global warming. Global mean
carbon dioxide concentrations passed 400 parts per million, with
global mean warming since pre-industrial times exceeding 1 degree
Celsius for the first time. These developments underscore the
continued inadequacy of efforts to control the greenhouse gas
emissions that are causing climate change.

There have been some positive developments, however, notably the
agreement in Paris among 196 countries on a global climate accord.
Boldly setting a goal of keeping global mean warming well below 2
degrees Celsius, the agreement recognizes the need to bring net
greenhouse gas emissions to zero before the end of the century. Still,
it is unclear how the world will actually meet that goal. The backbone
of the accord—pledges submitted by each of the signatory countries to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions—is far from sufficient. Even while
acclaiming the Paris agreement as a landmark achievement, the UN
Climate Change Secretariat acknowledged that if all countries fulfill
their voluntary commitments but do no more than that, then by 2025,
the world will have used half of the remaining carbon dioxide budget
consistent with a 2 degrees C goal. Three-quarters of that budget of
carbon emissions will have been exhausted by 2030. And this assessment
assumes that countries will fully comply with their pledges—even
though the Paris agreement includes no effective enforcement
mechanisms to assure that countries do so.

Success in limiting climate change will ultimately depend on the good
faith and good will of the signatories, and their willingness to cut
emissions even more than they have pledged and to make even deeper
cuts over time; most of the emissions pledges now are set to end
sometime between 2025 and 2030. Still, the accord represents an
encouraging step forward in that it will get the world off its current
path of exponentially growing emissions, which is the first step
toward stabilizing the climate. Importantly, the pledges by developing
countries, notably China, include serious mitigation efforts that in
the aggregate exceed those of the developed countries. These pledges
recognize that solving the climate problem requires the developing
world to get on a low-carbon pathway compatible with its development
needs, even though the climate has been brought to its present
perilous state primarily through the past emissions of the developed

Other positive developments include the Papal encyclical Laudato Si,
which cogently and powerfully expresses the moral imperative to
restrain the human impact on climate; the growing number of
corporations, educational institutions, faith-based groups, and
institutional investors that have demonstrated their commitment to
sustainability through disinvestment in fossil fuel companies; and the
emergence of bold, on-the-ground initiatives to leapfrog to more
sustainable energy systems. The elections of more climate-friendly
governments in Canada and Australia are also encouraging, but must be
seen against the steady backtracking of the United Kingdom's present
government on climate policies and the continued intransigence of the
Republican Party in the United States, which stands alone in the world
in failing to acknowledge even that human-caused climate change is a

Given the mixed nature of the year's developments regarding protection
of the climate, we find no climate-related justification for a change
in the setting of the Doomsday Clock.

The nuclear power leadership vacuum. Nuclear energy provides slightly
more than 10 percent of the world’s electricity-generating capacity,
and some countries—notably China and several countries in the Middle
East—have announced ambitious programs to expand their nuclear
capacity, for a host of reasons, including the need to respond to
growing energy demands and to address climate change. But the
international community has not developed coordinated plans to meet
cost, safety, radioactive waste management, and proliferation
challenges that large-scale nuclear expansion poses.

Nuclear power is growing in some regions that can afford its high
construction costs, sometimes in countries that do not have adequately
independent regulatory systems. Meanwhile, several countries continue
to show interest in acquiring technologies for uranium enrichment and
spent fuel reprocessing—technologies that can be used to create
weapons-grade fissile materials for nuclear weapons. Stockpiles of
highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel continue to grow (globally,
about 10,000 metric tons of heavy metal are produced each year). Spent
fuel requires safe geologic disposal over a time scale of hundreds of
thousands of years.

The US programs for handling waste from defense programs, for
dismantling nuclear weapons, and for storing commercially generated
spent nuclear fuel continue to flounder. Large projects—including a
mixed-oxide fuel-fabrication plant at the Savannah River Site, meant
to blend surplus weapons-grade plutonium with uranium so it can be
used in commercial nuclear power plants—fall ever further behind
schedule, and costs continue to mount, with the US Energy Department
spending some $5.8 billion each year on environmental management of
legacy nuclear waste from US weapons programs.

Because of such problems, in the United States and in other countries,
nuclear power’s attractiveness as an alternative to fossil fuels has
decreased, despite the clear need for carbon-emissions-free energy in
the age of climate change.

More attention to emerging technological threats. The fast pace of
technological change makes it incumbent on world leaders to pay
attention to the control of emerging science that could become a major
threat to humanity.

It is clear that advances in biotechnology; in artificial
intelligence, particularly for use in robotic weapons; and in the
cyber realm all have the potential to create global-scale risk. The
Bulletin continues to be concerned about the lag between scientific
advances in dual-use technologies and the ability of civil society to
control them. The Science and Security Board now repeats the advice it
gave last year: The international community needs to strengthen
existing institutions that regulate emergent technologies and to
create new forums for exploring potential risks and proposing
potential controls on those areas of scientific and technological
advance that have so far been subject to little if any societal

Three minutes is too close. Far too close. We, the members of the
Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,
want to be clear about our decision not to move the hands of the
Doomsday Clock in 2016: That decision is not good news, but an
expression of dismay that world leaders continue to fail to focus
their efforts and the world's attention on reducing the extreme danger
posed by nuclear weapons and climate change. When we call these
dangers existential, that is exactly what we mean: They threaten the
very existence of civilization and therefore should be the first order
of business for leaders who care about their constituents and their

We recognize that some progress has been made on the nuclear and
climate fronts. We hail the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear
agreement as real diplomatic achievements that required genuine
political leadership. But those two accomplishments are far from
sufficient to address the daunting array of major threats the world
faces. A new Cold War looms, with absolutely insupportable,
extraordinarily expensive, extremely shortsighted nuclear
"modernization" programs continuing apace around the world. Paris
notwithstanding, the fight against climate change has barely begun,
and it is unclear that the nations of the world are ready to make the
many hard choices that will be necessary to stabilize the climate and
avert possible environmental disasters.

Because of failures in world leadership during 2015, we see that the
recommendations for action in last year's Doomsday Clock announcement
are, very unfortunately, at least as relevant today as they were a
year ago, and that the North Korean situation requires renewed focus.
We therefore call on the citizens of the world to demand that their

●      Dramatically reduce proposed spending on nuclear weapons
modernization programs. The United States and Russia have hatched
plans to essentially rebuild their entire nuclear triads in coming
decades, and other nuclear weapons countries are following suit. The
projected costs of these "improvements" to nuclear arsenals are
indefensible, and they undermine the global disarmament regime.

●      Re-energize the disarmament process, with a focus on results.
The United States and Russia, in particular, need to start
negotiations on shrinking their strategic and tactical nuclear
arsenals. The world can be more secure with much, much smaller nuclear
arsenals than now exist—if political leaders are truly interested in
protecting their citizens from harm.

●      Engage North Korea to reduce nuclear risks. Neighbors in Asia
face the most urgent threat, but as North Korea improves its nuclear
and missile arsenals, the threat will rapidly become global. Now is
not the time to tighten North Korea’s isolation but to engage
seriously in dialogue.

●      Follow up on the Paris accord with actions that sharply reduce
greenhouse gas emissions and fulfill the Paris promise of keeping
warming below 2 degrees Celsius.The
2-degree-above-pre-industrial-levels target is consistent with
consensus views on climate science and is eminently achievable and
economically viable, providing poorer countries are given the support
they need to make the post-carbon transition and to weather the
impacts of the warming that is now unavoidable.

●      Deal now with the commercial nuclear waste problem. Reasonable
people can disagree on whether an expansion of nuclear-powered
electricity generation should be a major component of the effort to
limit climate change. Regardless of the future course of the worldwide
nuclear power industry, there will be a need for safe and secure
interim and permanent nuclear waste storage facilities.

●      Create institutions specifically assigned to explore and
address potentially catastrophic misuses of new technologies.
Scientific advance can provide society with great benefits, but the
potential for misuse of potent new technologies is real, and
government, scientific, and business leaders need to take appropriate
steps to address possible devastating consequences of these

Last year, the Science and Security Board moved the Doomsday Clock
forward to three minutes to midnight, noting: "The probability of
global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the
risks of disaster must be taken very soon." That probability has not
been reduced. The Clock ticks. Global danger looms. Wise leaders
should act—immediately.