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Doomsday Clock to be Reset - 2002-02-26

The hands of the so-called "Doomsday Clock" will be reset this week. The clock is a symbol of the Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and signifies how close the publication's editors think the world is to nuclear destruction.

The Doomsday Clock has been around since 1947. Over the years its hands have been moved 16 times to reflect dangers in the world or developments in the nuclear age. The hands have been at nine minutes to midnight since 1998, when both India and Pakistan tested atomic weapons and joined the world's list of nuclear powers.

On Wednesday, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists editors will move the hands again. They are not saying yet whether the hands will be moved closer to midnight or farther from it.

But, in November, bulletin publisher Stephen Schwartz said the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States had altered the global security landscape. He said moral and ethical barriers against using weapons of mass destruction to kill great numbers of people had apparently fallen, and that if the al-Qaida terrorist group had nuclear weapons, it would most certainly use them.

Mr. Schwartz says he does not think terrorists will build a nuclear weapon anytime soon because of the extensive expertise needed to build one. But he says the myth that terrorists do not kill large numbers of people was destroyed last September.

The hands of the Doomsday Clock have never been moved as a result of terrorist actions or threats.

The clock was set at two minutes to midnight in 1953, after both the United States and the Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs. The clock was set farthest from midnight in 1991, when the Bulletin moved it to 17 minutes to 12. That happened as the Soviet Union was dissolving, and Moscow and Washington signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and announced additional cuts in nuclear weapons.