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Photo: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Facebook

This month, a mistaken alert of an incoming ballistic missile sent panicked thousands scrambling for cover, and others reaching out to relatives across the world to say goodbye in the 38 minutes they believed destruction was imminent. Just three days later, a Japanese news service accidentally reported on a missile attack from nearby North Korea. Also this month, some world leaders have argued publicly over the size and power of their respective “nuclear buttons.” 

The world is becoming a more dangerous place, and it is as close to the metaphorical “end times” as it has been since the advent of nuclear weapons, according to the latest update to the “Doomsday Clock.”

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced the clock to two minutes to midnight – the metaphorical destruction of the globe – during its annual announcement at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this morning.

The “grim assessment” comes due to growing dangers on the world stage, they said.

“To call the world’s nuclear situation dire is an understatement,” said Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher of the Bulletin.

Nuclear weapons are the predominant danger. President Donald Trump of the United States was cited as a particular factor - both for his nuclear weaponry stance including increased buildup of the American arsenal, as well as Twitter threats to North Korea.

“We could be facing a new arms race,” said Sharon Squassoni, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Fundamental to the dangers are the breakdown in a belief in "facts themselves," according to the scientists.

“Divorcing public policy from empirical reality endangers us all,” said Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, at today’s press conference.

Climate change is another fundamental threat, they explained. The withdrawal of the United States from the international climate accord by Trump is another threat, although it is not as imminent a threat as the nuclear one, they added.

The Doomsday Clock was instituted by a group of scientists at the beginning of the Cold War in 1947. The debut Clock set the time at seven minutes to midnight – partly because the Soviet Union was still two years away from testing its own nuclear weapon.

The closest the Clock has ever come to midnight was in 1953, just after the first H-bombs were tested by both the United States and the U.S.S.R. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, the nuclear standoff that almost resulted in global war, the Clock was seven minutes away from doom. The farthest the Clock has drifted away from midnight was in 1991, amid the Soviet Union’s collapse, when it was a full 17 minutes away from the metaphorical Armageddon end times. The biggest jump forward since that time was an advance from 14 minutes to nine minutes in 1998, based on the nuclear tests of both India and Pakistan just months earlier. Since then, terrorism and climate change have also been incorporated into the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ decision how best to advance the Clock.

The clock was advanced 30 seconds forward last year, due to nuclear proliferation and climate change.

Russia currently has 1,800 active missiles capable of striking North America. Some 1,400 U.S. warheads are pointed in the opposite direction, according to best estimates. Russian interference in the 2016 election that Trump won is currently the subject of multiple U.S. federal investigations.

Some hope exists, since the world made it through decades of near-misses during the Cold War. But more threats exist - and more states have nuclear buttons than ever before, the scientists added.

“We have moved back from the brink in the past,” said Krauss.

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