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Under the mushroom cloud: Will Nagasaki’s story be told at Hanford’s new national park? via The Seattle Times

Seven decades ago, a U.S. atomic bomb fueled with Hanford plutonium was dropped on Nagasaki. The story of the devastation doesn’t yet have a place in a new national park taking shape in Washington.


National Park Service officials want exhibits to explore not only the high-stakes push to produce the bombs — dropped Aug. 6, 1945, on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki — but the human costs and historical debate over the decision to unleash them.

A document released this year outlines basic themes for Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which in Hanford offers tours of a shuttered reactor and other sites. But it’s expected to take years to develop exhibits with artifacts and oral histories. Funds are tight, with sites in three states this year sharing a $680,000 budget.

Aside from money, this park also will take the political will to follow through with an ambitious agenda that includes exploring the darker side of the bomb.

Many U.S. historians say the two atomic bombs that killed more than 200,000 people were decisive blows that ended World War II and avoided a bloody U.S. ground invasion that would have taken even more Japanese and American lives. This is the mainstream narrative in America. For some who worked at Hanford, it is heresy to suggest anything to the contrary.


The Park Service prides itself as the nation’s storyteller, and increasingly has taken on uncomfortable history, such as the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, detailed at the Manzanar National Historic Site in California.

Putting the full history of the atomic bomb in a public display is a challenge of a different order.

For U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who backed the 2014 legislation that created Manhattan Project National Historical Park, this is history her own family lived through. Her father grew up in Kennewick, playing basketball with the children of those uprooted from Hanford to make way for the project. The Washington Democrat says the park should offer all perspectives, including the sacrifice of local families and the “devastating effects to cities halfway around the world.”

But former U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican who championed the park in Congress, says the legislative intent was to focus on the pioneering achievements, not the bombs’ effect on Japan.


There, many people have struggled to come to terms with Japanese military acts of aggression that led to war in the Asia-Pacific and a crushing defeat. A book by a Japanese hotel-chain owner, distributed this year for free in guest rooms, questions the veracity of the Rape of Nanking, a 1937 onslaught of rape and murder by Japanese soldiers in China.

Meanwhile, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have emerged as hubs of activism in the global movement against nuclear weapons.

Their mayors were alarmed by the concept of a U.S. national park created around the weapons that wiped out much of their cities. That prompted Jarvis — in interviewswith Japanese reporters in June 2015 — to offer assurances that the story of the destruction would be told.

In November 2015, the mayors sent a letter to a scholars forum on the park.


For visitors to Hanford’s B Reactor, Nagasaki’s fate, so far, remains unexplored territory.

Tours are conducted by the U.S. Energy Department, which began them back in 2009 and has continued to organize them since the park’s creation.

Visitors arrive at a modest building on the edge of Richland. There, a video details the wartime development of the 586-square-mile Hanford site selected by the Army Corps of Engineers for its access to Columbia River water, abundant hydroelectricity and remote location.

The video concludes with the mushroom cloud and an announcer declaring the B Reactor “one of the marvels of the 20th century” and a “testament to the human spirit.”

Visitors then ride a bus to the historic B Reactor, where former Hanford workers, acting as docents, detail the construction, tense startup and early operations that yielded the first plutonium. Nagasaki is not part of their narrative.


Next March, a Nagasaki delegation, including a survivor, will make a trip to the Richland area.

Says Ikeda, “My story has to be heard by the American people living in such a place.”

Read more at Under the mushroom cloud: Will Nagasaki’s story be told at Hanford’s new national park?

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