Table of Contents
Send a Letter
Magazine Staff
Editors's Notes
Chicago Journal
Class News
Books by Alumni
For the Record
Center Stage
Ad Infinitum
Alumni Medals
Alumni Gateway
UofC Homepage

Apocalypse-not yet

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.

After India 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."

By resetting 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.

The clock, 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 of sponsors.-P.J.A.

Table of Contents | Send a Letter | Staff | Editor's Notes | Letters | Investigations | Journal | Class News | Books | Deaths