RICHLAND, Benton County — Mitsugi Moriguchi was 8 when the atomic bomb detonated over his home city of Nagasaki, and he has spent much of his life telling the story of the aftermath.
The retired schoolteacher speaks in classrooms and at conferences, and he helped to edit a book of survivors’ testimonials. Last week, he came to Richland to talk about what happened — but also to learn as he visited the shuttered Hanford B Reactor — now part of a U.S. national park — that produced the plutonium fuel for that bomb.
The reactor tour was a highlight of Moriguchi’s trip to Central Washington that also included a visit to Richland High School, where he gave the principal a copy of the testimonial book he helped to edit, and met with downwinders — people who lived in the path of Hanford radioactive releases first disclosed in 1986.
A new national park
The B Reactor, under a 2014 act of Congress, became part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park that also includes other sites at Hanford as well as Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The Park Service manages this park in an unusual partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy.
Park officials are charged with telling the history of the secret Manhattan Project at the dawn of the Atomic Age. They have said they want exhibits to explore not only the high-stakes push to produce the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and three days later on Nagasaki — but also the human costs on the homefront and in Japan, as well as the historical debate over the decision to unleash them.
Today the focus at Hanford is a massive cleanup of nuclear and chemical waste. But its role in helping to build the bomb remains a source of community pride, reflected in the mushroom-cloud emblem Moriguchi found displayed on the outside walls, gymnasium banners and many other spots around Richland High School.
“I personally like it,” said Lili Glodo, a senior and third-generation member of her family to attend Richland High. “It starts a conversation, and lets us know that it happened. It helps us remember history and make sure that Nagasaki is not forgotten.”
Moriguchi summed up his reaction as “shock.” He was particularly offended by finding the emblem painted on the hallway floor.
“We were underneath that cloud,” Moriguchi said. “To see it being stepped on was excruciating. It was as if the mothers and children who died underneath that cloud were being stepped on.”
Tears on a tour
Moriguchi had six siblings, none of whom died during the initial attack. But five later died of cancer, which he attributes to the aftereffects of exposure to the bomb’s radioactive materials.
His Nagasaki experiences have made a wary critic of all things nuclear, and he opted to don a white Tyvek suit and protective mask for his visit to the reactor. He also carried a handheld radiation monitor, and as he first entered the building he noticed an uptick and stopped to point it out to the tour guide — 90-year-old John Fox, the former Richland mayor who spent more than four decades working at Hanford.
Fox said the atomic bomb, dropped when he was 18, helped end the war and saved him from getting drafted into an Army preparing for a difficult invasion of Japan.
Moriguchi said the bomb killed his family. His eyes filled with tears.
He wondered whether he had been too outspoken. But when he looked at Fox, he found tears coming from this man who spent so much of his life working at Hanford.
As the tour ended, the two men hugged.