Gallup Independent

Doomsday Clock ticking

Monday, Jan. 15.

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau
Gallup Independent

WINDOW ROCK -- The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will move the minute hand of the "Doomsday Clock" on Jan. 17, the first such change to the clock since February 2002. 

The action reflects growing concerns about a "Second Nuclear Age," marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, as well as unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere.

The continuing "launch-ready" status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the United States and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks are other concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project and were deeply concerned about the use of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. 

In 1947 the Bulletin introduced its clock to convey the perils posed by nuclear weapons through a simple design. The "Doomsday Clock" evoked both the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero).

In 1949 Bulletin leaders realized that movement of the minute hand would signal the organization's assessment of world events. The decision to move the minute hand is made by the Bulletin's Board of Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates. 

The Bulletin's "Doomsday Clock" has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to nuclear weapons and other threats. The clock now sits at seven minutes.

The Jan. 17 event begins at 9:30 a.m. and will take place simultaneously in Washington D.C., at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and at 2:30 p.m. GMT in London at The Royal Society.

A live, two-way satellite feed will connect the Washington, D.C., and London events.


News that the hand of the Doomsday Clock will be moved comes just 10 days before the 56th anniversary of the beginning of atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site, which spread radioactive fallout across the Navajo Nation and the continental United States.

To date, few health studies have been conducted and few Navajos have been compensated for their illnesses.

Downwinders United, which includes victim from Arizona, New Mexico and five other states, are charging that the detonation of Divine Strake scheduled for this spring at the Nevada Test Site is in all likelihood part of the Bush administration's desire to eventually resume testing.

The test would detonate 700 tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil to simulate blasts that may be able to destroy underground targets.

According to Defense Department budget documents, the Divine Strake test is designed to identify the smallest nuclear yield necessary to destroy such targets.


But after critics pointed out that Congress specifically eliminated funding for new nuclear weapons such as bunker busters and mini nukes, the Defense Department claimed that the inclusion of the word "Nuclear" was a mistake -- a claim downwinders aren't buying.

Preston Truman of Downwinders United said, "In truth, they made an error that disclosed what they did not want the public to know -- that the test is indeed nuclear-related and that research in the development of nuclear bunker busters is still ongoing despite the wishes of Congress and the vast majority of downwind residents."

Truman said the size of the blast itself far exceeds the capacity for delivering a conventional weapon of that size.

"Bunker busters of that yield would have to be mini nukes," he said. "Does the Pentagon really think the American public, especially those downwind, are that slow on the uptake?"

Truman said further evidence of the Bush Administration's plans to enter a new nuclear era were reflected in an exclusive report by William J. Broad in the New York Times.

According to the article, the Bush administration is expected to announce a decision regarding the country's first new nuclear warhead in nearly 20 years.


U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, who represents Utah Navajos, sent a letter this week to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency expressing disappointment with the public meetings held in Utah on Divine Strake.

While they appreciate the efforts of the Department of Energy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in conducting public meetings, they said, "We fully agree with the disappointment felt by many of our constituents over the lack of a plenary session, where a senior government expert would speak on the record and answer questions in front of all the meetings' attendees.

"This is especially disconcerting since DTRA did make a commitment to us to conduct such a plenary session at the meetings."

Hatch and Matheson also took issue with the format, which was similar to that used by the Office of Surface Mining during some of the Black Mesa Environmental Imact Statement public meetings.

"The format used had important deficiencies," they said. Attendees were confused as to which of the 22 experts to ask a specific question and also stated that the answers they received were not consistent.

"Of course, this only increases the much deserved distrust that many Utahns have toward statements made by the federal government regarding radiation and activities at the Nevada Test Site," they said.

To correct the situation, "DOE and DTRA should conduct additional plenary sessions, where questions can be put to government experts on the record and the answers can be heard by all of the meetings' attendees," they said.

Only three meetings were scheduled: two in Utah and one in Nevada. Downwinders have called for additional hearings on the Navajo Reservation and in several other states, including Arizona and New Mexico.

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