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A different kind of ‘atomic tourist’ visits Hanford via Crosscut

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Of the thousands of people who have toured giant and forbidding B Reactor, the world’s first large scale plutonium reactor, Mitsugi Moriguchi is the first person to do so in a white radiation-blocking jumpsuit, hood and mask. It is a startling sight that is perhaps less surprising when you learn why this 81-year-old is so concerned about radiation exposure: He experienced the business end of that Nagasaki bomb. Moriguchi is a hibakusha — Japanese for survivors of the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. He is thought to be the first Nagasaki hibakusha who has visited the place that created the plutonium that destroyed his city.

“I came here because I wanted to know what the town that produced plutonium is doing today,” Moriguchi said through an interpreter. “And what it plans to go on doing in the future.” Moriguchi has long wanted to see B Reactor, the world’s first large scale plutonium reactor and he brought the radiation-blocking jumpsuit for that tour. But he also hoped to see Richland, the once-secret city that was built in a hurry to house the scientists and secretaries, engineers and electricians who helped build the Fat Man bomb.

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His mood became more somber at the next stop, Richland High School, known as the “Home of the Bombers.” He learned that the school has two mascots, a B-17 bomber that Hanford workers donated called “Day’s Pay” and a mushroom cloud. “Shocked,” he muttered as he watched kids play basketball on a gym floor emblazoned with a mushroom cloud under a banner that read “Proud of the Cloud! Go Bombers.”

Moriguchi, himself a teacher for 40 years, tried to explain to students why he didn’t think a mushroom cloud was a proper mascot for any school, especially on a gym floor. “Under the mushroom cloud people died,” he said. “So it is like stepping on graves. I can’t forgive that.”

“What he doesn’t understand is how much the Day’s Pay and the mushroom cloud mean to us,” said student Ryan Piper. “It means where we were and where we are going. I’m sure it brings back some bad stuff but there you go.”

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The B Reactor, under an act of Congress, became part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park which was established in 2015 to preserve three sites where the United States developed atomic weapons. It is an unusual partnership between the Park Service and the U.S. Department of Energy. The former director of the National Park Service had said the agency wants exhibits to delve into the damage atomic bombs caused in Japan. But at the local level, the Park Service did not take advantage of the opportunity to talk to the first survivor from Nagasaki to visit Hanford. We were with the local administrator in her office just feet away from Moriguchi who was in the lobby — and we asked if she would greet him-and she said she did not plan to do so. She declined our request for an on-camera interview.

“I would have liked to have had a discussion with the Department of Energy and the National Park Service too,” Moriguchi said at a press conference that wrapped up his visit.

As one of the only living witnesses who experienced what nuclear weapons can do, he has spent 72 years telling people about the aftermath of the bomb. And he is used to dealing with audiences who don’t want to hear everything he has to say.  But Moriguchi is not giving up on his big goal: to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used again. As he returned to Nagasaki, he hoped to return to Richland some day to find a more inclusive viewpoint.

“I have nothing against patriotism! But I want people, in addition to loving their country, to love human beings,” he said. “To love humanity.”

 

 

 

 

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Posted in *English.

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