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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Doomsday Clock set forward by two minutes

The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock has been moved closer to the fatal midnight hour to reflect the growing concerns of global terrorism, the unchecked nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea and -- in a first -- the threat of climate change.

The clock was first set 60 years ago by an elite group of nuclear scientists at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, shortly after the United States dropped its atomic bombs on Japan. It was meant to symbolize the perils facing humanity from nuclear weapons.

But for the first time, the clock is also registering the threat of global warming, which they call a "second nuclear age."

The clock, which hangs in the University of Chicago, has been set at seven minutes to midnight since 2002. It was moved Wednesday to five minutes before the hour.

"Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices," the scientist said in a statement.

"North Korea's recent test of a nuclear weapon, Iran's nuclear ambitions, a renewed emphasis on the military utility of nuclear weapons, the failure to adequately secure nuclear materials, and the continued presence of some 26,000 nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia are symptomatic of a failure to solve the problems posed by the most destructive technology on Earth."

"The dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons," the statement continued.

"The effects may be less dramatic in the short term than the destruction that could be wrought by nuclear explosions, but over the next three to four decades climate change could cause irremediable harm to the habitats upon which human societies depend for survival."

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded by former Manhattan Project scientists who turned against nuclear weapons after developing the first atomic bomb.

Over the past 60 years, their Doomsday clock has been moved 18 times.

It moved to two minutes before midnight - its closest proximity to doom -- in 1953 after the United States and the Soviet Union detonated hydrogen bombs.

It moved back to its furthest point from doom -- 17 minutes to midnight -- in 1991 when a new global nuclear arms treaty was signed.

Its keepers last moved the clock's hand in February 2002, a few months after 9/11 and after the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The decision to move the minute hand is made by the Bulletin's Board of Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which include Stephen Hawking and 18 Nobel Laureates.

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