Doomsday Clock moves closer to midnight

Gaby Leslie

The Doomsday Clock has been moved one minute closer to midnight – meaning that the world is theoretically one step closer to a huge global disaster.

This week, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS) moved the hands of the symbolic clock from six to five minutes before midnight to reflect the world’s lack of progress on battling climate change, and new states pursuing nuclear weapons that could spell Armageddon.

Japan’s Fukushima accident last year was also a deciding factor in the clock’s change.

In a formal statement issued at the time of Tuesday's announcement, the BAS noted: “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.”

[Related feature: Dates the world was supposed to end]

Why forward?

The decision was made following a symposium in the US where scientists reviewed the implications of recent events and trends for the future of humanity with input from other experts on nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, climate change and biosecurity.

[Related feature: 12 easy steps to reduce your carbon footprint]

The last update of the clock was in January 2010 when a whole minute was gained. But that was when BAS thought the world was cooperating in terms of their nuclear ambitions.

“The challenges to rid the world of nuclear weapons, harness nuclear power, and meet the nearly inexorable climate disruptions from global warming are complex and interconnected. In the face of such complex problems, it is difficult to see where the capacity lies to address these challenges.

“Political processes seem wholly inadequate; the potential for nuclear weapons use in regional conflicts in the Middle East, Northeast Asia, and South Asia are alarming; safer nuclear reactor designs need to be developed and built, and more stringent oversight, training, and attention are needed to prevent future disasters; the pace of technological solutions to address climate change may not be adequate to meet the hardships that large-scale disruption of the climate portends,” the BAS added.


Created in 1947 by the board of directors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago, the Doomsday Clock was originally seen as a symbol of the threat of nuclear war.

The original time was set at 11.53pm, or seven minutes to midnight, with the latest setting being 11.58pm in 1953, when the US and Russia each tested thermonuclear devices within the space of nine months.

It was 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 after the end of the Cold War – the furthest the clock hands have ever been away from midnight.

The clock has become a universally recognised indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences.