March 1, 2002

Staff Editorial

Nuclear age keeps tickin'

For those of us who came of age in the waning days of the Cold War era, the threat of a nuclear strike on our own soil seems remote. Today we view as anachronistic photos of baby boomers executing the "duck-and-cover" drill in their classrooms. Nuclear war, while still a concern, is no longer the all-pervading fear that it once was. Of course, the very fact that two nuclear superpowers are no longer poised on the brink of war has given people of a younger generation good reason to rest a little easier than their parents did.

But the times are changing. Yesterday, the Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science moved the hands on its famous icon, the "Doomsday Clock," two minutes closer to midnight, signifying a greater risk of nuclear catastophe. The rationale for moving the hand takes into account a broad range of considerations, according to representatives of the Foundation. A few of these are particularly unsettling: the United States and Russia still maintain more than 31,000 nuclear warheads, some of which remain on "high alert" status, meaning that they could be fired in a matter of minutes; effective measures have not been taken to curb the smuggling of radioactive materials that could be used to construct nuclear weapons; and the Bush administration has announced that the United States will withdraw from the ABM treaty.

At this school in particular, given its rich historical connections to the Manhattan Project, the problem of disarmament is especially resonant. Many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project were instrumental in founding the Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science. They were concerned about the dangerous potential of the atomic bomb, and it would behoove us to follow their example. Hence students at the University of Chicago should take a more active interest in the issue of nuclear proliferation.