Faced with inadequate progress on nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, and continuing inaction on climate change, or find safe and sustainable sources of energy - as exemplified by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) announced on January 10 that it has moved the hands of its famous "Doomsday Clock" to five minutes to midnight. The rare bright points the scientists noted were the Arab spring and movement in Russia for greater democracy.
The clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has been gauging our proximity to global disaster since 1947, using the potent image of a clock counting down the minutes to destruction.
The scientists also noted how Republicans seeking the nomination for presidential candidate, were trying to outdo each other in denying climate science. Their greatest disappointment, however, was the failure of international leaders to rid the world of nuclear weapons, exemplified by what they called "ambiguity about Iran's nuclear power program." Even when Russia and America ratified a new nuclear treaty in 2010, there were still nearly 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world. They warned that the Fukushima meltdown once more exposed the dangers of nuclear power - not just because of technology but because of management failures. After Fukushima, governments also need to think far more carefully about siting nuclear power plants. The stricken plant was too close to the coast and in a seismically active region. "A major question needs to be addressed: "How can complex systems like nuclear power stations be made less susceptible to accidents and errors in judgment," the scientists said in their statement.
On climate change, the scientists warned the global community may be reaching a point of no-return unless there is a push to begin building alternatives to carbon-heavy technologies within the next five years. The Fukushima disaster, the painfully slow pace of the UN's international climate negotiations, and the growing hostility to science punctured the optimism of earlier pronouncements from the Bulletin scientists.
In 2010, the scientists set the clock back from five minutes to six minutes to midnight, amid hopes that the international community was prepared to act on nuclear weapons and climate change. "We all had a sense when we moved the clock in 2010 that we might have a breakthrough," said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the bulletin. "Today there was a real sense that we really need new thinking and we don't have new thinking."
Sources: Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists, press release, 10 January 2012 / Guardian (UK), 10 January 2012
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