Remembrances of Dr. Kazuo Furukawa

Dr. Ritsuo Yoshioka of the International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum has relayed some sad news to us:

“This is a very sad notice. Professor Kazuo Furukawa passed away on December 14th 2011. He had a cancer surgery in last summer, and he once came back. In last October, he gave several lectures at different seminars, and gave lectures on the Internet TVs, very actively. He was in a hospital since last November in order to relax his body, but it is a time we have to say the final words. I and other staffs will keep promoting his will, that is to realize Thorium MSR on this world. We hope your cooperation to this Forum, same as before.”

I had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Furukawa at the first Thorium Energy Conference (ThEC2010) in London, England in October 2010. Dr. Furukawa was very friendly to all but forceful in his conviction that only the molten-salt reactor had the potential to usefully realize the titanic energies of thorium.

The conference featured speakers from other thorium-related reactor topics, including solid-fueled thorium reactors and accelerator-driven thorium reactors. Without fail, at the conclusion of any talk on a thorium reactor type other than an MSR, Dr. Furukawa would raise his had for the first question, and in his broken English spoken with great earnestness, would try to convey his intense convictions in the superlative merit of the molten-salt reactor.

This was a man who wasn’t going to waste any time.

Shortly after the London conference, Dr. Furukawa and Senator Keishiro Fukushima traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee and I drove up there and served as a bit of a host for them. We visited several locations and I enjoyed having some time to talk with Dr. Furukawa.

He shared several stories with me that stay with me–one might even say that they haunt me.

The first was his description of being a young sickly man on the island of Honshu in August 1945. He had been called into military service to repel the anticipated American invasion of the Japanese home islands. He knew he would die soon in the invasion. He told me that when he heard that the bombs had gone off in Hiroshima and Nagasaki he realized that the Japanese would surrender, and for the first time in many years, he believed that he would live and have a future.

He told me that he committed his life to improving the lives of all humanity because of his elation that his life would continue. I had heard stories of American soldiers who believed that they would certainly be killed in a Japanese invasion, but this was the first time I ever heard the same story but told from a Japanese perspective.

He also shared a copy of a talk given by Alvin Weinberg called “The Protohistory of the Molten-Salt Reactor”. This talk contained some very valuable insights into the beginnings of fluoride reactor research in the US, but then Furukawa made a casual, almost off-hand remark:

“Alvin would never talk about the MSR in the United States the way he would talk about it with us when he was abroad.”

I realized that Weinberg was truly scared by the American nuclear community and what they had done and still could do to him and his colleagues because of their defense of the MSR concept. And Furukawa confirmed that Weinberg was a great advocate of the concept when he was “out of the watchful ears” of the American nuclear community.

Farewell, Dr. Furukawa, and thank you for all that you did for us.

7 thoughts on “Remembrances of Dr. Kazuo Furukawa

  1. Interesting to hear that reflection of the war from the Japanese side. Some historians now saw that it was not the threat from the US nuclear arsenal that caused the Generals to surrender, but that the Soviet Union had just declared war on them. The Emperor, I am told, was convinced by the atomic bombs. I should note that the professor who taught me is an American who lived in the Soviet Union for a short time in the 1970s. Rest in Peace, Doctor Furukawa, for you have done much good in your life.

  2. Very well put Kirk. Dr. Furukawa will indeed be missed. I'd add that at the London Thorium conference we were at, Dr. Furukawa told each "non-MSR" speaker just about the same thing but phrased a little different each time. "Your heart is in the right place, but please understand you are wrong and wasting your time". A unique character if I ever met one.

  3. Professor Kazuo Furukawa passed away on Dec. 14th, 2011 and the sad news reached many worldwide.
    The funeral ceremony was to be held at 6 pm on 17th (Saturday), and at 11am on 18th (Sunday) (main) at Tsukuba which is about 100 km north of Tokyo.
    (Tsukuba Memorial Hall, Tamatori-1766, Tsukuba, the chief mourner is
    his first son: Kazuro Furukawa.

    Funeral ceremonies are very traditional in Japan and those who cannot attend, for instance because they don't live in the country, generally send a condolence message to the family either directly or, if possible, through
    someone who will deliver it to the family at the ceremony hall.

    So just in case – "Prof. Kazuro Furukawa" ).

    It was also at the London Thorium conference that I saw Prof. Kazuo Furukawa for the last time ….We have been in touch several times since then.

    Rest In Peace, Kazuo-san…

  4. Dr. Furukawa also visited ORNL for a day during his trip through the US last fall (2010) and I spent considerable time with him. He gave a lecture and repeated his signature phrase quoted above “Your heart is in the right place, but please understand you are wrong and wasting your time” He told me that he was old and did not have time to waste. If I remember correctly, we had several ORNL retires from the MSR project visit with him and we had a nice tour of the lab. One thing that I remember is that he was delighted at one of the places we went for dinner that the waitress was learning Japanese at UT Knoxville. He spent several minutes talking with her in Japanese conversation about the meal helping her to correct her pronunciation. He was incredibly determined and forthright in his communications.

  5. Prof. Kazuo Furukawa visited Venezuela (Hosted by the Universidad Simón Bolívar) accompanied by Takashi Kamei in 2009 to give us a course on the Thorium Molten Salt Reactor. Together we gave a public lecture in Spanish which we called “The Green Nuclear Energy”. To those of us who heard him he left behind a firm commitment to advance the MSR.

    Prof Furukawa’s talk on Japanese TV (Sep.1st, 2011) after he came out of hospital can be seen in YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhFw32vjyUQ

  6. Thank you for warm and sincere messages to Dr.Furukawa.
    I also attended Thorium Energy Conference at London
    in 2010.
    In recent years, he has been always saying that he would have very limited time.
    I think he could imagine how much days or hours were left for him.
    So, he wanted to say "We have to go straight to MSR, because our global resource (human or budget) is limited."
    Please understand that his critical comments in the Conference was his testament to the world.

    I added Dr.Furukawa's historical record in the web site of our Forum. http://msr21.fc2web.com/furukawaenglish.htm

    Ritsuo Yoshioka
    "International Thorium Molten-Salt Forum"(ITMSF)

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