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‘Doomsday Clock’ moved one minute closer to ‘midnight’

Updated: February 12, 2012 8:10AM

Citing ongoing threats from nuclear proliferation, climate change and the need to find sustainable and safe sources of energy, scientists moved the symbolic “Doomsday Clock” one minute closer to midnight on Tuesday.

The clock was moved from six minutes till midnight to five minutes to midnight.

The clock is symbolic and has been maintained by the University of Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1947. The closer to a setting of midnight it gets, the closer it is estimated that a global disaster will occur.

“It is five minutes to midnight,” the scientists said Tuesday. “Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed.”

“There are still 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world — enough to kill all of humanity many times over,” Robert Socolow of Princeton University said at a news conference in Washington D.C..

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project. The scientists created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero), to convey threats to humanity and the Earth.

The bulletin has grown into an organization focused more generally on manmade threats to human civilization.

The Doomsday Clock had most recently been moved back from five to six minutes to midnight in 2010, in a response to the worldwide reduction of nuclear weapons and attempts to limit climate change.

The clock came closest to midnight — just two minutes away — in 1953, after the successful test of a hydrogen bomb by the United States. It has been as far away as 17 minutes, set there in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union.

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