Iran moves the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight

Iran's continued push to develop nuclear weapons is one of the reasons the planet is now a much more dangerous place. The dangers from nuclear power and climate change are the other two. Photo: Associated Press

EASTON, Md., January 16, 2012 — Tick tock, tick tock. Atomic scientists have moved the hands on the Doomsday Clock to five minutes before midnight, the witching hour. According to their calculations, we are only five minutes away from human extinction thanks to a looming global catastrophe coming in one form or another.

And one of the biggest reasons the clock’s minute hand has been moved one minute closer to Doomsday is Iran. All of this was brought into sharp focus this past week by the assassination in broad daylight of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan. Many see the killing of Roshan and his bodyguard by a magnetic car bomb as the latest attempt by unknown parties to thwart Iran’s march towards nuclear weapons. Iran blames Israel and America, both of whom have denied involvement.

While the assassinations of key Iranian scientists and the computer virus, Stuxnet, have not stopped Iran from enriching uranium to higher levels of purity by running it through centrifuges, Iran has fallen behind schedule. “By their own measure, they should have been at 50,000 centrifuges operating, and there are about 8,000 installed. So that’s dramatically short of where they would have been,” Dennis Ross, who until recently was the Obama administration’s point man on Iran, told CBS.

That said, “By the end of this year they [Iran] are going to have about 250 kilos of this 20 percent enriched uranium, which is a matter of concern for the international community,” said Olli Heinonen, who used to inspect Iran’s centrifuges for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

This is a prime reason that the Doomsday Clock is one minute closer to striking the hour. The clock, set by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAC), has been with us for 55 years, a constant reminder to us how close the world is to self-annihilation. The clock started ticking in 1947, right after World War II ended and the Cold War began, a mere two years after America destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs.

The World Is Reassessed

Every few years BAC goes back and reassesses the status of the world. Now thanks to the lack of progress on nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, and the continued inaction on climate change, things in the world have worsened considerably.

A very big piece of the problem continues to be Iran. “Ambiguity about Iran’s nuclear power program continues to be the most prominent example of this unsolved problem,” according to the report.

A poster targeting President Barack Obama is held aloft in Iran (Image: Associated Press)

A poster targeting President Barack Obama is held aloft in Iran (Image: Associated Press)


The BAC report goes on to say: “…failure to act on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea and on a treaty to cut off production of nuclear weapons material continues to leave the world at risk from continued development of nuclear weapons. 

“The world still has approximately 19,500 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the Earth’s inhabitants several times over.”  

BAC describes the situation as ominous: “It is five minutes to midnight. 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. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.”

The Lessons of Japan?

The Fukushima disaster in Japan on March 11, 2011 was an international danger signal. Despite improvement in the last 60 years of “reactor designs and developing nuclear fission for safer power production, it is disheartening that the world has suffered another calamitous accident,” the report laments.

Obviously, safer nuclear reactors need to be designed, developed and built, but unless tougher oversight, training, and on the job attention is done, future disasters loom. A major and frightening question that BAC asks to be addressed is: “How can complex systems like nuclear power stations be made less susceptible to accidents and errors in judgment?”

Diablo Power Plant

Right here in the USA, we currently have 104 nuclear power reactors in 31 states, operated by 30 different power companies. In fact, we are the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, comprising more than 30% of the world’s nuclear generation of electricity. 

After the devastation at Fukushima, American scientists took another look at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California that is perched only a few miles from the Hosgri Fault, a spur of the infamous San Andreas Fault. And to make matters worse, two years ago, another fault line, the Shoreline, only a half-mile off shore from the plant was discovered.

“The important issue is whether the two faults can rupture together,” Jeanne Hardebeck, a research geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, who discovered the new fault.

A rupture that starts on the Shoreline Fault and continues onto the Hosgri Fault could bring a direct hit, causing an earth-shattering disaster, even though it was built to withstand a 7.5 earthquake. “We’ve certainly not ruled it out,” Hardebeck says.

But it pays to also remember, Fukushima was built to withstand a 7.9 but was slammed with a 9.0

Ignoring Climate Change

The global community has had a head in the sand mentality, either ignoring the need to address global warming, dismissing the science of climate change, or is too poor to effect change. Yet now the world may be at a point of no return.

Glaciers are now melting

The BAC’s prediction for the future is dire: “The International Energy Agency projects that, unless societies begin building alternatives to carbon-emitting energy technologies over the next five years, the world is doomed to a warmer climate, harsher weather, droughts, famine, water scarcity, rising sea levels, loss of island nations, and increasing ocean acidification.”

Fossil-fuel burning power plants are stoking global change for the worse, and power plants built between now and 2020 will produce energy and their resulting emissions for up to 50 years, making it nearly impossible to reverse.

For BAC scientists the outlook for the Earth’s future is not bright. And given Iran’s intransigency about plowing ahead with its nuclear program, the situation in the Hormuz Straits, its interference in Iraq, and the recent assassination, tensions have soared in the region making it a tinderbox for a nuclear showdown.

The BAC report concludes pessimistically, “In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges. The political processes in place seem wholly inadequate to meet the challenges to human existence that we confront.”

And the Doomsday Clock keeps ticking.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib in the Communities at the Washington Times. She can also be heard on the Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.




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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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