Symposium 2011

The Atomic Age from Hiroshima to the Present symposium
took place on May 21, 2011 at the University of Chicago International House.
We are sincerely grateful to all who came to attend the symposium.

Click here to view information about Symposium 2012.

Exploring Nuclear Weapons and Energy through Documentaries with Discussion

When we began organizing this symposium more than one year ago and settled on the title, “The Atomic Age from Hiroshima to the Present,” we had no expectation, indeed, no wish, that “the present” would include an actual nuclear catastrophe. We had defined our purpose as follows: as we enter the eighth decade of the nuclear era, how can we think about—and act upon—the relationship between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, in the classroom and in our communities? The reality of Fukushima, following upon the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl, gives new urgency to all participants as we explore the atomic age—weaponry and energy, from the Cold War era to our present predicament.

To focus our discussion, the symposium will feature new documentaries by two women filmmakers, one from the U.S. and one from Japan. They will be joined by a panel of experts for discussion after each screening, with a roundtable to conclude the day.

Atomic Mom by M.T. Silvia explores the impact of nuclear testing in the U.S. through a focus on the film-maker’s mother, Pauline H. Silvia, a scientist who worked at the Nevada Test Site. Learning about her mother’s past takes Silvia to Hiroshima, where she meets another “atomic” mother, Emiko Okada, a survivor of the atomic bombing. The contrasting stories of the two women overlap to dramatize the costs of nuclear actions and nuclear secrecy. (“The gold award as “Best Documentary Feature” went to ATOMIC MOM by M. T. Silvia” –

Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Futureby Hitomi Kamanaka explores the decades-long, bitterly divisive struggle among residents over whether to build a nuclear power plant on an island in the Inland Sea of western Japan. With preparations for plant construction underway, Kamanaka takes us to Sweden to learn about an alternative energy policy in practice.

The question of our relationship with nuclear weapons and energy is urgent for the health of our bodies, of democracy, and of the earth. The goal of this symposium is to foster dialogue and provide resources and information for the classroom and the community.




8:30 – Registration & continental breakfast

8:45 – Introduction by Norma Field

9:00-10:20 Screening of Atomic Mom

10:30-11:30 Panel Session I: Kennette Benedict, Joseph Masco, Sidney Nagel, and MT Silvia; Moderated by Yuki Miyamoto

(Topics include: the history of nuclear weapons, testing, and energy; the role of scientists and changing discourse in the development of nuclear science; geographical issues in determining test & power plant locations)


12:30-2:30 Screening of Ashes to Honey: For a Sustainable Future

2:40-3:40 Panel Session II: Kamanaka Hitomi, Dave Kraft, Robert Rosner, and Tomomi Yamaguchi; Moderated by Norma Field

(Topics include: energy policy, alternative practices, community conflicts, activism in Illinois)

3:50-5:30 Roundtable Discussion; Moderated by Tomomi Yamaguchi

(Topics include: the impact of nuclear disasters, alternatives to nuclear energy, staying informed and making a difference)

6:00- Reception



M.T. Silvia, filmmaker (Twitter) is an independent filmmaker. Her first documentary Picardy Drive (2002, Documentary, 57min) aired on KQED’s ImageMaker series, FreeSpeechTV and is available on home video. She has worked professionally as an engineer in the film industry for over twenty years at both Skywalker Sound and Pixar Animation Studios. Among many mainstream film credits, she has also worked as a recording engineer on Wild at Heart (1990, Drama, 124min), and assistant sound editor on It’s Elementary (1996, Documentary, 80min), and Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1997, Drama, 98min). Movie Website

Hitomi Kamanaka, filmmaker (Twitter) Upon graduating from college, Hitomi Kamanaka entered the documentary film world as a free-lance assistant director. With a grant from the (Japanese) Agency for Cultural Affairs, she studied at the National Film Board of Canada and subsequently went to the U.S., where she became a media activist with a group called Paper Tiger Television in New York. Returning to Japan in 1995, she made numerous programs on medical care, the environment, and the economy for NHK. Since then she has been making documentaries on energy and the environment that address issues missing from the mass media and having them screened on a non-profit basis by citizens’ groups around the country. Her Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003) and the subsequent (2006) Rokkasho Rhapsody have been shown at 650 locations throughout Japan. Her most recent film, Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Future (2010) is currently being screened in Japan. She combines college-level teaching with activist filmmaking.

Kennette Benedict, Executive Director and Publisher, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Twitter) The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is a magazine established by Manhattan Project scientists in 1945 to inform the public about the dangers of nuclear weapons and other catastrophic threats to humanity. From 1992-2005, Dr. Benedict directed the international peace and security program at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. She also established and directed the foundation’s initiative in the former Soviet Union from 1992-2002. Before joining the foundation in 1987, she taught at Rutgers University (1980-81) and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1981-1985). Benedict received her A.B. from Oberlin College and a PhD in political science from Stanford University. [Click to see her full bio]

David Kraft (Nuclear Energy Information Service) is the director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service (, which he co-founded with seven other environmental activists in 1981 in order to provide the public with reliable information about nuclear power and radiation hazards as well as energy alternatives to nuclear power. As an undergraduate, he attended Northwestern University in Evanston and Northeastern University in Chicago, and subsequently, the Industrial Areas Foundation/Alinsky Institute for Social Change. He writes for numerous publications in the Chicago area and serves as an interview and informational resource for many Illinois, national and international journalists writing stories about Illinois nuclear power, radioactive waste, renewable energy, utility deregulation, and environmental issues. He has served on advisory groups and commissions dedicated to these issues and helped organize major conferences such as the international World Depleted Uranium/Uranium Weapons Conference (Hamburg, Germany, 2003), “Nuclear Power and Children’s Health” (Chicago, 2004), “Citizen Epidemiology–The Next Step” (Evanston, 2005), and “Chernobyl+20: Remembrance for the Future” (Kiev, Ukraine 2006). He can be reached at

Joseph Masco (Anthropology, University of Chicago) Associate Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences in the College writes and teaches courses on science and technology, U.S. national security culture, political ecology, mass media, and critical theory. His first book, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006), theorized the nuclear age by exploring how the end of the Cold War challenged concepts of security and risk for the diverse communities working in and neighboring Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. His current work examines the evolution of the national security state in the United States, with a particular focus on the interplay between affect, technology, and threat perception within a national public sphere. University Website

Sidney Nagel (Physics, University of Chicago) Sidney Nagel’s work has drawn attention to phenomena that scientists have regarded as outside the realm of physics, such as the science of drops, granular materials and jamming. Another area of emphasis is his attempt to understand the properties of disordered materials. A perfect crystal of a chemical element or a compound is composed of an ordered arrangement of atoms, but in a disordered system-a glass, for example-the atoms are in disarray. Disordered systems also exist on a larger scale, as with the sand grains in a sand pile. Nagel’s honors include election to the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 and the American Physical Society’s Oliver Buckley Prize in 1999.

Robert Rosner (Astronomy, Astrophysics, and Physics, University of Chicago) served as Argonne National Laboratory’s Associate Director for physical, biological and computing sciences and as its Chief Scientist from 2002 until his appointment as laboratory director in 2005. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, his scientific specialty is plasma astrophysics—the physics of the sun and the stars. He led the collaboration of Argonne and University of Chicago scientists who created the Center for Astrophysical Thermonuclear Flashes and directed the center from its founding in 1997 until 2002. The center develops simulations of exploding stars with computer codes that can be adapted for application to other fields.

Norma Field teaches in the Department of East Asian Languages & Civilizations at the University of Chicago. Of her books, In the Realm of a Dying Emperor (1989) focuses on the threshold moment of the dying and death of Emperor Hirohito, which highlighted ordinary citizens’ confrontation with aspects of “war responsibility” buried under the trauma of defeat and the postwar formula of “peace and prosperity”; Reading Kobayashi Takiji for the 21st Century (Kobayashi Takiji: Nijūisseiki ni dō yomu ka, 2009) studies the political and literary struggles of an emblematic Japanese proletarian writer in the global revolutionary struggles of the 1920s and 30s. She has become interested in pursuing the role of class in the study of most phenomena. Through her undergraduate course, “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Beyond,” she has been studying the nuclear age in terms of the legacy of the atomic bombs not only in Japan but in the U.S., the use of depleted uranium (DU), and nuclear power.

Yuki Miyamoto (Religious Studies, DePaul University) Since earning her PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School, Yuki Miyamoto has held the position of Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University. Dedicated primarily to atomic bomb discourse, her book entitled, Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima is forthcoming from Fordham University Press in 2011. Among her publications on the given subject is “Rebirth in the Pure Land or God’s Sacrificial Lambs?: Religious Interpretation of the Atomic Bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (Japanese Journal of Religious Studies), in which she compares a Buddhist and a Roman Catholic interpretation of the atomic bombings. Her interests in the ethics and the marginalization, arguing for the importance of attending to the way in which invisible others—atomic bomb victims or the war dead, which led to an article entitled “Fire and Femininity: Fox Imagery and the Ethical Responsibility” appeared in the volume Imagination Without Borders: Feminist Artists and Social Responsibility (University of Michigan Press, 2010). She has led three study abroad programs visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and is appointed as Nagasaki Peace Correspondent in 2010.

Tomomi Yamaguchi (Sociology and Anthropology, Montana State University) (Twitter: Japanese / English) After a three-year term as a post-doctoral scholar at the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, in 2007 Tomomi Yamaguchi became an assistant professor of Anthropology at Montana State University. While teaching issues related to the atomic bomb and energy in her classes on sociocultural anthropology and Japan, she became an organizer of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-bomb Peace Series in Bozeman, MT; she organized a photo exhibition, a film series as well as talks featuring an A-bomb survivor, which ended up being received with a mixture of enthusiastic support and hostile response in the community. Her current research project involves conservative activism in contemporary Japan, and she has been interviewing Japanese conservative activists on the issues of Atomic weapons and energy, including supporters of the construction of the Kaminoseki power plant in Yamaguchi prefecture, the issue featured in Kamanaka Hitomi’s film.