IMPACT

'Countdown To Zero' Urges Lowering The Number Of World's Nukes...To Zero

07/23/2010 12:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do you know how many nuclear weapons there are in the world? What about the nations that have them? Further...how are those nukes protected? These are pretty important questions that, perhaps not surprisingly, most Americans can't answer.

Even more alarming? The actual answers: there are 23,000 nuclear weapons in the world, and they're not all accounted for. And the ones that are? They occasionally malfunction.

If you're not scared yet, the new film from the producers of "An Inconvenient Truth" can take care of that. "Countdown To Zero," a film directed by Lucy Walker, looks at the origins of the atomic bomb, the near-catastrophes its caused throughout history, and the current state of the world's nuclear ambitions. The film makes the argument that too many things can go wrong -- mistakes, terrorism, malfunctions -- to keep nuclear weapons in existence.

One of the most frightening true stories told in the film is from the 1990s. The U.S. launched a rocket into the sky to study the northern lights. The Russians were informed of this move, but somehow miscommunication led to something potentially disastrous. The Russian military was convinced that the U.S. had just launched a nuclear missile headed for Moscow or St. Petersburg. Launch codes were retrieved and the so-called "button" was placed in front of then-president Boris Yeltsin. All he had to do was give the go-ahead, and a simple misunderstanding between nations could have eradicated tens of millions of Americans within an hour. Fortunately, according to the film, Yeltsin "wasn't drunk," and didn't believe what the military told him. As in several other circumstances, it was luck that saved us.

The ultimate goal, argues "Countdown To Zero," should be the complete eradication of atomic bombs. The film depicts dozens of prominent leaders who agree: Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter, former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, and former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

WATCH the trailer:

So, now that you're sufficiently shaking in your underground bunker, it's time to take action. And "Countdown To Zero" aims to provide viewers with tools to do so. Here's what they recommend:

First of all, see the film. It's out today in New York City and Washington D.C., and expands on Friday, July 30th, to theaters in Los Angeles, Chicago and several other cities. Free tickets are available to select showings around the U.S. over the next several weeks.

Sign the petition on takepart.com/zero to demand a world without nuclear weapons. As of this writing, the petition has just over 21,000 signatures. You can also sign the petition via the widget below.

Text ZERO to 77177 to get updates on the film and the project.

Download a PDF of the "Countdown To Zero" discussion guide. It comes with information about the film, the major topics, and how you can spark a discussion in a classroom or elsewhere.

You can also take a look at TakePart.com's flickr slideshow of stills from the film:

As John F. Kennedy once said, "The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us." The filmmakers behind "Countdown To Zero" want to inspire a movement to make Kennedy's dream a reality.

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