Symposium uses documentary films to explore impact of “Atomic Age”

Filmmakers, social scientists, policy experts and physicists will explore the complex origins and impact of nuclear power at a May 21 conference at International House.

The debate over nuclear energy has taken on new urgency since the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, said Norma Field, the Robert S. Ingersoll Professor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations, who helped organize the conference.

“There’s an immediacy to this issue at the University of Chicago, the birthplace of nuclear energy, and in Illinois, which is home to the most nuclear power plants in the country,” Field said. “We hope this event will challenge our assumptions about nuclear power, and contribute to a more thoughtful dialogue about the atomic age.”

The symposium, “The Atomic Age from Hiroshima to the Present,” will feature screenings of two recent documentaries from the United States and Japan. The filmmakers and a panel of experts will engage in a roundtable discussion following each film screening.

In Atomic Mom, filmmaker M.T. Silvia examines her mother Pauline’s work on nuclear weaponry as a Navy scientist in the 1950s, while Hitomi Kamanaka’s Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Future explores the debate over building a nuclear power plant in a secluded area of western Japan.

Other symposium participants include Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; David Kraft of the Nuclear Energy Information Service; anthropologist Joseph Masco, author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico; physicists Sidney Nagel and Robert Rosner; Yuki Miyamato, professor of religious studies at DePaul University and author of Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima; and Tomomi Yamaguchi, professor of sociology at Montana State University, who has studied the debate over nuclear power in Japan.

“The Atomic Age from Hiroshima to the Present” will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at International House, 1414 E. 59th St.. The symposium is free and open to the public, but reservations are required. To RSVP, please visit

The event is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies, International House, Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, the Human Rights Program, the Center for Gender Studies and the Department of Anthropology.