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A-Bomb Creator Turned Opponent Worries About Proliferation

Aired May 2, 2000 - 2:22 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, almost as soon as mankind split the atom, people began to think about the unthinkable: a global nuclear war. And some of those who worry the most are the very people who split the atom.

CNN Chicago bureau chief Jeff Flock recently sat down with one of those nuclear pioneers who first sounded the alarm about the bomb.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Listen.

JOHN SIMPSON: My feeling is that we are in a precarious stage in the world.

FLOCK: This is among the last voices of the bomb makers. Before there was this, there was this, the world's first uranium pile, secreted beneath the football stands at the University of Chicago. Though the plaque and stadium are now gone, it was home to the world's first self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

John Simpson was one of the leaders of the team.

(on camera): You were a patriot?

SIMPSON: That's right.

FLOCK (voice-over): But patriotic feelings gave way to concern, caution, dissent. This was Simpson in 1945. In "Life" magazine, he and some of his colleagues spoke out publicly for the first time against the bomb.

It was that year that the atomic scientists put out their first bulletin. It would lead to the so-called "doomsday clock," which is one symbolic measure of how close the world is to nuclear disaster. It has ticked to within two minutes of nuclear midnight in 1953 after U.S. and Soviet tests and as far away as 17 minutes a decade ago at the end of the Cold War.

Tests in India and Pakistan have pushed it back to nine minutes of.

(on camera): Do people have a real sense of how scary it is these days?

SIMPSON: Well, I hope not, in a way.

FLOCK (voice-over): The most recent edition of the bulletin estimates current world nuclear stockpiles at 31,535 warheads, down from a high of nearly 70,000 in 1986, but still about as many as during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Most are somewhere in the former Soviet Union.

SIMPSON: I think personally that the proliferation issue is almost out of control at the present time.

FLOCK: John Simpson, now 83, and still a professor at the University of Chicago, remembers when it wasn't, back when he posed with his colleagues for "Life" and appealed to the world to outlaw the bomb. Simpson's is the last of those voices left.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, in Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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