Atomic Scientists: We’re Still Dangerously Close To The Apocalypse

Atomic Scientists: We’re Still Dangerously Close To The Apocalypse

Each year since 1945, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists sends a letter to the UN Security Council in which they tell them how close we are from nuclear holocaust using a Doomsday Clock. In 1960 we were two minutes from midnight. Their new 2014 report says we’re still five minutes from the Apocalypse. “Five minutes is too close,” they say.

The organisation — which was founded by some of the researchers who participated in the Manhattan Project — counts with the collaboration of a board of sponsors that includes 18 Nobel laureates to analyse current data to give this estimate. They always give good reasons:

The Nuclear threat

Speaking at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate in mid-June, President Obama proposed a reduction in the limit on US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads from the current New START level — 1550 warheads on each side — to 1000.

Obama’s speech came just days after Iran elected a new president, Hassan Rouhani, who quickly changed the tone of the country’s foreign policy, clearing the path for the first direct talks between the United States and Iran in 35 years.


Around the world, much nuclear material remains unsecured.

Soon after Obama’s Brandenburg Gate speech, Russia offered political asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked US classified documents, creating an international media sensation, and Obama called off a planned summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. There appears to have been little movement since on nuclear agreements between the United States and Russia.

China is reported to be modernising and quantitatively increasing its nuclear arsenal, albeit at a slow pace. India and Pakistan continue to expand their arsenals and stockpiles of fissile materials. Both countries are developing and testing new missiles, many nuclear-capable. India plans to build a nuclear submarine fleet and to develop a ballistic missile-defence system, the deployment of which could destabilise the subcontinent.

Despite authoritative reports that it has a nuclear weapons arsenal, Israel continues a policy of nuclear ambiguity while strenuously trying to scuttle talks on Iran’s nuclear efforts. In February 2013, North Korea conducted yet another nuclear weapon test, the first under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, and issued a series of military threats, some involving the use of nuclear weapons.

And there’s more…

The nuclear threat is bad enough, but the board talks about many other dangers that threat our global survival. The certainty of climate change that keeps causing more and more extreme crisis every year is one of them, but they also point out at recent technological developments that have greatly accelerated in 2013:

Headlines from 2013 only hinted at the speed and scope of technological change — from synthetic biology to three-dimensional printing to robotics and beyond — that is sweeping the globe. The positive aspects of this fast-moving technological advance mask a core problem: What happens when scientists create a technology with the best of intentions, but society cannot properly control it? Bioengineering, for example, might eradicate some diseases — but it might also put infectious weapons in the hands of terrorists. Sophisticated robots might help governments respond to disaster — or be programmed to hunt and kill humans with ruthless efficiency.

We can prevent it

It’s a grim outlook, but they also offer reasonable solutions:

Demand that US and Russian leaders return to the negotiating table.Once there, 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.

Support international discussions about the humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons. Talks begun at the Oslo conference in March brought developing countries to the table and increased knowledge about the danger posed by any nuclear exchange to countries around the world. We encourage the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, and China to join these talks instead of boycotting them, as they did last spring.

Exercise political leadership on climate change. World leaders must curb carbon-emitting practices and support energy technologies — including wind, solar, and geothermal power generation and vigorous energy efficiency measures — that will mitigate further disastrous alteration of the climate. The science on climate change is clear, and many people around the world already are suffering from destructive storms, water and food insecurity, and extreme temperatures. It is no longer possible to prevent all climate change, but you can limit further suffering — if you act now.

Sadly, it’s the same advice every year and every year it gets mostly ignored.

Keep up the good work, everyone.