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Feb. 27, 2002 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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"Doomsday Clock" moves two minutes closer to midnight

Growing concern about the security of nuclear weapons materials stockpiled around the world and a lack of U.S. support for several global disarmament pacts today prompted the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the minute hand of the “Doomsday Clock” forward two minutes - to seven minutes to midnight - the same position as when the clock made its debut in 1947.

The move marks the third time the hand has been advanced since the end of the Cold War in 1991. The hand was last moved in June 1998, from 14 minutes to nine minutes to midnight. The clock has been reset 16 times previously in its 55-year history.

“Despite a campaign promise to re-think nuclear policy, the Bush administration has taken no significant steps to alter nuclear targeting policies or reduce the alert status of U.S. nuclear forces,” said George A. Lopez, Chairman of the Bulletin's Board of Directors, who made the announcement. “Meanwhile, domestic weapons laboratories continue working to refine existing warheads and design new weapons, with an emphasis on the ability to destroy deeply buried targets.”

Lopez stressed that the movement of the clock's minute hand is based on a comprehensive checklist of nuclear developments worldwide, both positive and negative, and is only partially related to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“We are deeply concerned that the international community appears to have ignored the wake-up call of September 11,” added Lopez. “Terrorist efforts to acquire and use nuclear and biological weapons present a grave danger. But the U.S. preference for the use of preemptive force rather than diplomacy could be equally dangerous.”

The Bulletin also cited the continuing U.S. preference for unilateral rather than cooperative action, and its efforts to impede international agreements designed to limit the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. In particular, the Bulletin criticized U.S. plans to walk away from the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in June, and its refusal to participate in talks regarding implementation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Other factors were a general lack of progress on nuclear disarmament; growing concern about the security of nuclear weapons materials worldwide and the crisis between India and Pakistan. The Bulletin also pointed to the growing gap between rich and poor around the world, increasing the potential for violence and war.

More than 31,000 nuclear weapons are still maintained by the eight known nuclear powers, a decrease of only 3,000 since 1998. Ninety-five percent of these weapons are in the U.S. and Russia. Even if the U.S. and Russia complete their recently announced arms reductions over the next decade, each nation will continue to keep thousands of nuclear weapons targeted against the other.

Of the countries most often described as seeking nuclear capability - Iraq, Iran and North Korea - North Korea has shown a willingness to retreat from that pursuit, deciding last year to extend its unilateral moratorium on missile flight tests through 2003. Yet the Bush administration has abandoned negotiations with North Korea, and President Bush described all three nations as an “axis of evil” during his recent State of the Union address.

In addition, Russia and the United States continue to maintain enormous stockpiles of fissile material, according to Stephen I. Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin. Russia has more than 1,000 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium and approximately 140 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium, and the U.S. has nearly 750 metric tons of weapon-grade uranium and 85 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. A rudimentary nuclear weapon can be constructed using only 55 pounds of weapon-grade uranium, or 17.6 pounds of plutonium.

The recent crisis between India and Pakistan, most recently punctuated by a December 13 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament, marks the closest any two states have come to nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis, Schwartz said.

Among the positive developments that Schwartz said kept the clock from moving even closer to midnight are an increased resolve for disarmament by the 187 governments that are party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Bulletin also cited France's dismantling of its Pacific nuclear test site and the Bush administration's intention to seek more funding for technical assistance to ensure that nuclear weapons materials and expertise do not leave Russia. However, the Bulletin was critical of the fact that the current level of U.S. funding to assist Russia with security efforts is less than one-third of the $3 billion annual expenditure recommended last year by a task force of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Founded by a group of World War II-era Manhattan Project scientists, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has warned of global nuclear peril since 1945. The “Doomsday Clock” was created by Chicago artist Martyl, the wife of physicist Alexander Langsdorf, a Bulletin founder, who said she used the final quadrant of a clock face “to symbolize urgency.”

For the minute hand to move back, the United States and Russia need to commit to reduce their nuclear arsenals to no more than 1,000 warheads each by the end of the decade, said the Bulletin. Each side should be free to choose its own means for achieving this goal, but both should commit, in writing, to transparency and verification provisions to ensure that the cuts are carried out and the delivery systems and warheads dismantled.

The Bulletin also called on the United States and Russia to finally recognize the end of the Cold War by abandoning the practice of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons on high alert, ready to be fired within minutes. “This practice, born of fear and uncertainty during the Cold War, is a dangerous anachronism,” said Schwartz.

The United States should also reconsider its plans to walk away from the ABM Treaty in June. As the U.S. intelligence community recently concluded, ballistic missiles are neither the most likely nor the most destructive threat facing the United States.

Other measures that would increase global stability include a ban on the deployment of space-based weapons; full adherence by all parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention; and the resumption of negotiations on a verification protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is published by the not-for-profit Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science and is housed at The University of Chicago. The full analysis describing the rationale for today's move of the Clock can be found in the March/April edition of the Bulletin, available at newsstands next week. The Bulletin is supported by private donors and foundations, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the W. Alton Jones Foundation. For more information about the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the “Doomsday Clock,” visit the Bulletin's website at www.thebulletin.org.

For a statement from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, click here.

 

http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/02/020227.doomsday.shtml
Last modified at 12:40 PM CST on Wednesday, February 27, 2002.

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