In June the
keepers of the Doomsday Clock, a symbol of nuclear apocalypse, moved
its hands forward five minutes closer to midnight-the largest forward
jump in 30 years. The clock, which appears on the cover of every
issue of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and has been
reset 15 times since its 1947 inception, now reads 11:51 p.m.
and Pakistan-previously undeclared nuclear powers-conducted nuclear
tests this May, the Bulletin's board of directors, chaired by Leonard
Rieser, SB'43, decided to reset the clock in hopes of increasing
public awareness of the continuing international nuclear threat.
While cold war tensions have eased, there has been no subsequent
move toward nuclear disarmament; indeed, according to Rieser, "opportunities
have been missed and open doors have been closed."
the clock, the Bulletin's board also wants to underscore
the failure of the U.S. and Russia to ratify a 1996 United Nations
nuclear-test ban treaty; signed by 150 countries, it has been ratified
by the governments of only 15. "Our leverage with the other countries
is just much reduced," Rieser says of the U.S.'s ability to get
other nations to sign the treaty, "when we haven't done what we
signed on to do."
When the Doomsday
Clock was last reset in 1995, it stood at 14 minutes to midnight,
the second earliest setting in its history. The clock came closest
to midnight in 1953, when it was reset at 2 minutes before 12 after
U.S. testing of hydrogen bombs, while the earliest setting came
with the end of the cold war in 1991, at 17 minutes before midnight.
like the Bulletin itself, was part of a larger, post-World
War II movement by a group of scientists (including Rieser) who
had worked on the Manhattan Project and were concerned about the
need to regulate nuclear energy and promote its peaceful use. Current
board members include two U of C faculty members: Stephen Walt,
professor in political science, and Don Q. Lamb, Jr., professor
in astronomy & astrophysics. U of C physics professor emeritus John
A. Simpson, who helped found the Bulletin, is president of its board