Australian news, and some related international items

Stanislav Petrov – the man who saved the world from nuclear holocaust

The 1983 nuclear weapons false alarm that nearly destroyed the world

Sep 26, 2018 It was the moment Stanislav Petrov had been dreading since childhood, and preparing for much of his adult life.After decades of Cold War tension, the early warning satellites had been triggered. The Americans had launched their nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union.

As the duty officer in the Soviet Air Defence in the command centre bunker outside Moscow, it was Lt Col Petrov’s job to call his superiors and warn of an impending nuclear strike.

Based on his word, the Soviet forces would reply with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles targeting the US and its allies. If it did not end human life on this planet, it would change it irrevocably.

But, based on nothing more than gut instinct, Lt Col Petrov, then 44, did not make the call.

And, 35 years ago today, an unheralded Armageddon was averted.

The world would not know for years how close it came to destruction. It was the day in 1983 Australia II won the America’s Cup. The nation’s attention could not have been further away.

“Launching the amount of nukes ready at the time would have severely impacted the way humans live on earth,” the University of Sydney’s US Studies Centre research fellow Brendan Thomas-Noone told

“Would some humans survive? Yes. We’ve all seen Mad Max.”

A false alarm

Lt Col Petrov knew it was a race against time if US missiles were rocketing towards the Soviet Union.

“All I had to do was to reach for the phone, to raise the direct line to our top commanders – but I couldn’t move,” he told the BBC.

“I felt as if I was sitting on a hot frying pan.”

But he had a feeling that things weren’t right.

His misgivings proved fortituous for the entire planet. The early-warning satellites had made the most banal of errors.

What appeared to be missiles being launched en masse was merely an illusion caused by sunlight reflecting off the top of clouds. That error could have destroyed the planet, were it not for Lt Col Petrov’s caution.

Doomsday redux

Technology has improved dramatically since then, but another error like that could still take place, according to nuclear disarmament campaigner John Hallam.

“It could all still happen,” Mr Hallam told

“The hands of the Doomsday Clock in 1983, stood at three minutes to midnight, midnight being the end of civilisation. The hands of the Doomsday clock now stand at two minutes to midnight.”

“This means that the room full of Nobel prize winners who move the hands of the doomsday clock think that the chances of nuclear war that could end civilisation right now, are worse than in 1983, a year in which the world nearly ended not just once, but twice, within a six-week period.”

Mr Hallam said the difference in 1983 was that people were protesting against nuclear weapons in their hundreds and thousands, something which wasn’t taking place today.

“Sydney had a number of peace marches that numbered in the hundreds of thousands,” he said.

“Washington had one that numbered a million. The possibility of global annihilation was then the number one issue. Why is it not the number one issue right now?”

Mr Hallam, who campaigns at the UN for nuclear disarmament, warned that “moving the deckchairs” in Canberra, was nowhere near as important as the potential end of civilisation and said the world’s leaders needed to push for the abolition of nuclear disarmament now more than ever.

“There is an urgent need for measures that would ‘take the apocalypse off the agenda’,” he said.

“Adopting strategies of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) and lowering the operational readiness of nuclear weapon systems so that Presidents and senior military do not have minutes and seconds to take decisions that might mean the end of the world are obvious ones.”

A humble end

Lt Col Petrov’s actions on September 26, 1983, has seen today marked as annual International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

His actions may be remembered forever, but Lt Col Petrov was not given the celebrity status that stopping the end of the world might warrant.

He was reprimanded by his superiors for not keeping the logbook accurate the night of the false alarm.

He retired from the military the following year, scraping by on a pension in his final days.

September 28, 2018 - Posted by | General News

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