| by Sierra Abukins

News Stories

Student Halle Shephard

Halle Shephard learns from some of the foremost nuclear experts in the world in her terrorism and nonproliferation master’s program at the Middlebury Institute.

But recently, she had the opportunity to learn firsthand from people who know more about the real impact of nuclear weapons than anyone else—the hibakusha, survivors of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Halle was one of 30 college and graduate students selected for Hiroshima ICAN Academy, half from the nuclear weapons states of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and half from other countries. The course is run by Hiroshima Prefecture and the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and aims to nurture global leaders who can make concrete contributions toward a more peaceful and secure world.

Students kicked off with online learning, then traveled to Hiroshima for a nine-day conference together. In the online program, they listened to testimonies from people in Nevada and the Marshall Islands who suffered terrible health issues due to radiation from nuclear testing.

Halle shared her reflections on the experience:

This was an especially exciting trip for me because this was not only my first trip to Japan, it was also my first trip to Asia. I traveled from California to Japan by myself, which was definitely a challenge for me.

The conference started with nervous, yet excited, introductions to the other 21 ICAN participants. Before we were fully oriented after our briefing, we were already off to meet the mayor of Hiroshima, who engaged with all our questions.

First, we met with Keiko Ogura in the Peace Memorial Museum. She shared a harrowing account of how she experienced the war as just a child. She talked about all of the panic that she went through in the months leading up to the Hiroshima nuclear attack. She had to go to school with an air raid hood and run back and forth every time the air raid alarm went off, which was a regular occurrence. If she were older like her siblings, she would have had to work to tear down wooden buildings in the city to prevent the city burning down after an attack. Her story of survival was truly terrible, and she felt guilty for those she watched die as a result of the attack. It must have been hard for her to tell us such traumatizing stories. The Peace Memorial Museum itself was something that I wish we had in the United States. It provided an abundance of information about the history and horrible reality of the nuclear attack in Hiroshima.

They shared not only their stories from August 6, but how that one day impacted the rest of their lives and the next generations to come.
— Halle Shephard, NPTS ’24

The next day was no less emotional. We toured the landmarks and memorial statues at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, paid our respects, and also viewed the epicenter of the nuclear explosion. It was beautiful to see how the park represented peace yet honored the lives lost in such an inhuman nuclear attack. After that, we listened in tears to the stories of hibakusha. Five kind hibakusha took time out of their days to come to the cultural center and speak to us. They shared not only their stories from August 6, but how that one day impacted the rest of their lives and the next generations to come. Learning all the hibakusha’s horrifying stories was distressing. I know that these stories are forever ingrained in the minds of all of the participants.

Overall, I was astonished by my experience in Hiroshima. I was amazed at how courageous and courteous the hibakusha who spoke to us were. 

As an American, I felt honored to be welcomed in Japan despite its dark history with the U.S. Also, I was fascinated that even though everyone came from very different backgrounds, we found we were united by a shared experience.