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"Doomsday Clock" Moves Away From Midnight 287

Arvisp writes to tell us that the symbolic "Doomsday Clock," designed to represent how close civilization is to catastrophic destruction, has been moved away from midnight. "First set at seven minutes to midnight, the clock has been moved only 18 times since its creation in 1947. The group, which includes more than a dozen Nobel laureates, last moved the hands of the clock in 2007, from seven to five minutes before midnight to reflect the threat of a 'second nuclear age' and the challenges presented by global warming. Today, at a press conference in New York, the Bulletin announced that despite the looming threats of nuclear weapons and climate change, it would move the hands of the clock from five to six minutes before midnight."
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"Doomsday Clock" Moves Away From Midnight

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  • Re:First thought... (Score:2, Informative)

    by amorsen ( 7485 ) <> on Friday January 15, 2010 @04:37PM (#30783472)

    Iran and Pakistan probably only have fission bombs. Not fun to be hit by, but not that much of a problem for the rest of the world, annihilation-wise.

  • Re:First thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Btarlinian ( 922732 ) <tarlinian@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday January 15, 2010 @04:39PM (#30783498)
    Pakistan has had nukes for quite a while now and we still don't actually know if Iran has them.
  • Second Thought (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tisha_AH ( 600987 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @04:43PM (#30783556) Journal

    I have been a paying member of the group for a few years now and I am distressed that they are constantly re-defining what doomsday is. Now it includes global warming, overpopulation, unstable governments, the building of any sort of nuclear power system, etc...

    It really diminishes from the message when they add in all of these other things. There have always been threats to our existence and there always will be.

    Asteroid impacts, genetically engineered plants or the eventual supernovae that will happen when Eta Carinae self-destructs are all threats as well.

  • Re:First thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by nomadic ( 141991 ) <> on Friday January 15, 2010 @04:54PM (#30783714) Homepage
    Even if some rogue nation (or non-rogue nation) hit a city with a nuclear missile you're not talking about the end of civilization. The blast radius would be a couple of miles, so you could take out a sizeable chunk of a downtown area. The damage would probably be significantly less than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which certainly didn't annihilate civilization.

    It should have been moved close to midnight but I suspect these guys, like the Nobel Foundation, are in love with the new president. They think the world is all rainbows and poppies now, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

    Or they accurately realize that GWB's leaving office and Obama entering it caused a noticeable easing of tension in world politics. This isn't so much because of the job Obama's done, but rather because of the destructive nature of GWB's administration.
  • Re:First thought... (Score:3, Informative)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @04:54PM (#30783740)

    World War I started over less. Basically the crown heir to the Austrian-Hungarian empire was assassinated in Serbia and then it escalated.

    Pakistan has pretty close relations with China. If China ever got involved into a large nuclear conflict, with say India, Russia and the US could not stand by idly.

  • Re:First thought... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 15, 2010 @05:24PM (#30784162)

    Thank you Nancy Chicken Kickers Pelosi ! You truely are an idiot !
    Hiroshima bomb= 12-15 kt TNT, Nagasaki bomb = 20-22 kt TNT, UK Orange Herald = 700 kt TNT, Castle Bravo - most powerful US test = 15,000 kt TNT, Tsar Bomba - most powerful USSR detonation = 50,000 kt TNT.
    I can't find anything yet on the Iranian and Pakistan weapons, but I'll bet they are more pwerful than the 1940s era bombs we dropped on Japan.

  • Re:First thought... (Score:5, Informative)

    by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @05:40PM (#30784376)

    I also see comments below about the bombs dropped on Japan - people need to keep in mind that was 65 years ago AND the bomb types were nuclear FISSION, not nuclear fusion. There's a distinct difference.

    Actually, the only real difference between fission bombs and so-called "fusion" bombs is the blast radius; fusion occurs in the latter, but its sole purpose is to increase the amount of fission in the fissile material. In both cases, the primary explosive force is provided by splitting uranium or plutonium atoms en masse. While the details are fairly complicated, the main difference between a fission and a "fusion" bomb is that a pure fission device uses a high explosive to compress the fissile core, while a fusion device uses fusion to do the same thing. A fusion device creates a small amount of fission to trigger fusion in surrounding hydrogen (technically, deuterium and tritium). The fusion of that hydrogen then compresses the main fissile core the way the high explosives do in a pure fission bomb. The reason a "fusion" bomb is more powerful is that the fusion of the hydrogen doesn't just create explosive force, it also releases neutrons which trigger fission in the U-238 shell around the fissile core. U-238 is not very fissionable; you can split it, but it won't go into a chain reaction. But the neutrons released by the fusion process trigger fission in the U-238, amplifying the amount of force compressing the core (made of plutonium or U-235, both of which do have chain reactions from fission).

    The whole reason for doing this is that a fission reaction is so powerful that it would, left to its own devices, blow apart the chunk of fissile material so fast that most of it wouldn't actually fission. By increasing the power of the force that compresses the fissile core, and making the core stay together fractions of a second longer, the fission process is much more complete, leading to greater explosive power when the core eventually explodes. The radioactivity produced can actually be less; it's spread over a larger area by the bigger blast, and the original fissile material is broken down more completely (granted, more radioactive materials are produced, but the effects roughly even out, with the greater dispersal reducing the radioactivity per unit area).

  • Re:First thought... (Score:2, Informative)

    by JaneTheIgnorantSlut ( 1265300 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @05:40PM (#30784380)
    Recent article in Scientific American suggests that local nuclear war could have wider consequences than previously believed. []
  • Re:First thought... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Daniel_Staal ( 609844 ) <> on Friday January 15, 2010 @05:45PM (#30784456)

    A nuclear war between India and Pakistan (both known nuclear powers, who don't get along) could conceivably be enough to cause a 'nuclear winter': Scientific American []

    Basically, soot would get blown into the stratosphere, where it shades the planet. (Oh, and destroys the ozone layer while it's at it.)

    So, it could be a problem for the rest of the world.

  • by Steve Hamlin ( 29353 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @06:54PM (#30785258) Homepage

    "Have we ever REALLY been 99.5% the way to destruction?" Total destruction - no. Nuclear conflict which could have easily gotten way out of control and ruined modern life and history - yes.

    The Cuban Missle Crisis was close, very close. DEFCON 2, SAC planes loaded up with live nukes, a U2 shot down and pilot killed (which Kennedy had said would cause a US invastion of Cuba), a Soviet nuclear-armed sub hit with depth charges and almost striking back at NATO ships. A hurried U.S. plan for a contingency government in Cuba and worries about how the Soviets would inflict pain on Europe in the case of a U.S. invasion of Cuba.

    Able Archer in 1983 was also very close - during very tense NATO war exercises, a Soviet orbital Early Missile Warning System reported a single intercontinental ballistic missile launch from the territory of the United States. This should have resulted in upstream warning and quite possibly a retalitory nuclear strike.

    --- A length collection from Wikipedia: ---

    - []
    - []

    Able Archer (1983) - Stanislav Petrov, a retired Soviet Air Defence Forces lieutenant colonel, deviated from standard Soviet doctrine by correctly identifying a missile attack warning as a false alarm on September 26, 1983. This decision most likely resulted in preventing an accidental retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its Western Allies.

    --- --- ---

    - []

    On the night of October 23rd, the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed Strategic Air Command to go to DEFCON 2, for the only confirmed time in history....In response (to the missles in Cuba still being worked on), Kennedy issued Security Action Memorandum 199, authorizing the loading of nuclear weapons onto aircraft under the command of SACEUR (which had the duty of carrying out the first air strikes on the Soviet Union).

    The next morning, Kennedy informed the executive committee that he believed only an invasion would remove the missiles from Cuba. However, he was persuaded to give the matter time and continue with both military and diplomatic pressure. He agreed and ordered the low-level flights over the island to be increased from two per day to once every two hours. He also ordered a crash program to institute a new civil government in Cuba if an invasion went ahead.

    At this point, the crisis was ostensibly at a stalemate. The USSR had shown no indication that they would back down and had made several comments to the contrary. The U.S. had no reason to believe otherwise and was in the early stages of preparing for an invasion, along with a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in case it responded militarily, which was assumed.

    Castro, on the other hand, was convinced that an invasion was soon at hand, and he dictated a letter to Khrushchev which appeared to call for a preemptive strike on the U.S. He also ordered all anti-aircraft weapons in Cuba to fire on any U.S. aircraft.

    A U.S. U2 reconnaissance plane was shot down (pilot killed) by a Soviet SAM emplacement. Anti-aircraft fire toward other U.S. planes continued. Kennedy has previous stated that if a U.S. plane was fired upon, he would order an attack against Cuba (a U.S. invasion).

    Military preparations continued, and all active duty Air Force personnel were recalled to base for possible action. Robert Kennedy later recalled the mood, "We had not abandoned all hope, but what hope there was now rested with Khrushchev's revising his course within the next few hours. It was a hope, not an expectation. The expectation was military confrontation by Tuesday, and possibly tomorrow..."

    Plans were drawn up for air strikes on the missile sites as well as other economic targets, notably petroleu

  • Re:First thought... (Score:3, Informative)

    by HBI ( 604924 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @07:27PM (#30785610) Journal

    The belief that WWI was inevitable is not universal. See Keegan's history, for instance.

    It is true that after a certain point, the cycle of responsive mobilizations (which entailed war) could not be stopped, but to say that the cycle could not have been broken at some point by men of good will is inaccurate. To say that such men did not exist in 1910s Europe is also incorrect.

    WWI was a huge mistake and not a single one of the powers that entered it did so willingly. Even the Habsburgs had (well-founded) fears.

  • Re:MY. ASS. (Score:3, Informative)

    by 10101001 10101001 ( 732688 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @10:22PM (#30787060) Journal

    Well let's see... Saddam already gassed a Kurdish population that resulted in over 5,000 deaths. the late 80s using components* sold by Europe and the US to Saddam in his fight against Iran.

    Let's also not forget the mass graves that numbered to be in the hundreds of thousands.

    Which is admittedly quite horrible, but we didn't bother to do anything in the first Iraq War over those atrocities. And we sure as hell didn't go to Iraq under the banner of vengence or justice for those deaths. The bedwetting came from doom and gloom predictions involving the death of someone they actually cared about: themselves.

    He may not have been after nuclear weapons, but would you sit idly by and take his word for it? No sane/rational person would.

    And of course, we didn't take his word for it. Instead, we (ie, the US, the UN, and Europe partially separately and partially jointly) had inspectors, convert intelligence, spy satellites, and analysts to check on his activities. And even though Saddam repeatedly kicked out the inspectors, all the collected intelligence left most of Europe and the UN convinced that while Saddam had desires for chemical and nuclear weapons, he was still being effectively sanctioned against actual acquisition and construction of them. Even the US intelligence was sketchy at best, at best implying he might have some of the components necessary to construct either chemical or nuclear weapons, but that he was not an imminent threat (ie, it would take at least a few years to get to the point of actually constructing such weapons, even under the most optimistic circumstances and known intelligence).

    In fact, after his atrocities on the human race, every breath of oxygen he took afterward was an insult to Humanity.

    That is quite so. Having said that, if you're willing to acknowledge that the US should be the policeman of the world, you should also be for the US joining the ICC (unless of course you believe the US should effectively become the judge and jury of the world as well). As well, neocons should have been quite honest in their intentions to seize Saddam for crimes against humanity instead of bolstering a rather fictitious threat. Of course, seizing Saddam wouldn't have required invading Iraq or toppling the government per se**, although it might have been necessary to maintain stability in the region.

    *My understanding is, under international law, it was illegal in Europe and the US to sell chemical weapons (or more specifically, WMDs (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons)) to other countries. However, if a chemical weapon required components A, B, and C, the US could sell to Iraq difficult to produce component A, a European country (I think France was one that did this) could sell to Iraq difficult to produce component B, and Iraq could buy or produce component C relatively trivially. In short, the US and Europe conspired to provide Iraq with chemical weapons in their fight against Iran. Now admittedly, the US and Europe didn't do this to specifically help Saddam facilitate gassing his own people (although at that point, both the US and Europe knew that Saddam wasn't above things like torture, killing his own people, etc), but the main reason the sale of WMDs are outlawed by treaty by so many countries is WMDs are indiscriminate, mass killers (admittedly conventional explosives are too to an extent...which is why there's been a lot of international push to ban the sale or use of anti-personnel mines and things like cluster bombs); ie, the US and Europe apparently wasn't overly concerned about mass Iranian civilian deaths. So, I'd say they were partially morally culpable regardless of Saddam's actual target.

    **Saddam was, in many ways, effectively the government, but one of his sons (presuming they weren't arrested as well) or another person in his regime (again, all those who weren't arrest

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