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Nagasaki survivor visits the U.S. town that fueled his city’s destruction

Of the thousands of people who have toured the world's original large-scale plutonium reactor in Hanford, Washington, Mitsugi Moriguchi is the first to come in a radiation-blocking jumpsuit. And there's a good reason: Moriguchi is believed to be the first Nagasaki bombing survivor to visit the historic facility. Special correspondent Jenny Cunningham of KCTS reports.

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  • William Brangham:

    A very unique museum in Washington state tells the history of how America built one of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan near the end of World War II.

    As Jenny Cunningham of PBS station KCTS in Seattle explains, this museum recently hosted a very unique visitor.

  • Narrator:

    Our nation possessed the ingredients for the most powerful weapon ever conceived, and the secret was out.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    As part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, the U.S. government chose an area near Hanford, Washington, as the site where scientists would try to produce plutonium. The plutonium was sent to New Mexico, where it was used in the first test of an atomic bomb.

  • John Fox:

    When the bomb was dropped, there was the expectation it was so horrible, that it would be the end of the war.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    For a decade, the Department of Energy has offered public tours of B Reactor, where workers processed uranium into plutonium to fuel some of the first atomic bombs.

    The popular behind-the-scenes look inside a nuclear site has attracted a new kind of visitor to Eastern Washington, the atomic tourist.

    But Hanford has never experienced an atomic tourist like this man. Of the thousands of people who have toured the world's original large-scale plutonium reactor, Mitsugi Moriguchi is the first person to do so in a radiation-blocking jumpsuit.

    It is a startling sight that becomes less surprising when you learn why he's so concerned about radiation exposure.

    Moriguchi is believed to be the first survivor of the Nagasaki bombing to visit Hanford. When the bomb exploded, he was 8 years old.

    Japanese-American professor Norma Field translates.

  • Mitsugi Moriguchi (through translator):

    It was a huge explosive sound. Smoke started rising from all over the city.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    Now 81, Moriguchi wanted to see the place that fueled the bomb that destroyed his city.

  • Mitsugi Moriguchi (through translator):

    I came here because I wanted to know what the town that produced plutonium is doing today, and what it plans to go on doing in the future.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    Moriguchi has come to make a case that the stories of bomb survivors should be part of a new national park created in 2015.

    The Manhattan Project National Historic Park preserves three World War II sites where the United States developed the first atomic weapons. The Park Service is working on new content that will be presented at Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Hanford.

  • Mitsugi Moriguchi (through translator):

    We learned that it was going to become a national park, and we in Nagasaki were quite worried. Was it going to become a national park to express pride?

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    Moriguchi's visit was organized by two Japanese-American professors, and joined by a college student and a film crew from Nagasaki.

    Moriguchi, himself a teacher for 40 years, was eager to tell students at Richland High School what it was like to survive a deadly bomb.

  • Lili Golodo:

    That makes us remember that you were real people and that guys you existed.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    He tried to explain to students why he was offended by the mascot painted on the gym floor.

  • Mitsugi Moriguchi (through translator):

    People walk on it, but, of course, under the mushroom cloud, people died, so it is like stepping all over graves. I can't forgive that.

  • Norma Field:

    I think you understood.

  • Mitsugi Moriguchi (through translator):

    A shock. Just a shock.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    Students told Moriguchi about the pride they feel in the school's two mascots, a mushroom cloud and Day's Pay, a World War II bomber paid for by Hanford workers.

  • Ryan Piper:

    What he doesn't understand — and I know he went through it — is just how much the Day's Pay and the mushroom cloud means to us as a community. It's like where we started and to see where we are now. It's just a symbol that means a lot to us. And, unfortunately, to other people, it's going to bring back the bad stuff. So…

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    Standing before this mural did trigger memories for Moriguchi, including walking across Nagasaki with his mother a few days after the bombing.

  • Mitsugi Moriguchi (through translator):

    There was nothing there. But there was smoke rising here and there, everywhere. It was the smoke of cremated bodies of those who died.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    The city of Nagasaki, which helped fund Moriguchi's visit, wants the suffering caused by atomic bombs to be part of the story told by the national park, which is not the current narrative.

    Tour guide John Fox, who worked for decades as an engineer at Hanford, described B Reactor as a marvel of science that saved lives, including his.

  • John Fox:

    It saved me from being drafted and participating in an invasion of Japan, in which case I stood a fair chance of ending up there dead on a beach.

  • Jenny Cunningham:

    Kris Kirby, the superintendent of the Manhattan Project National Park, said the sensitive process of further developing the park will take years.

    That's OK with Moriguchi. He's a patient man who has spent the last 72 years telling people about the aftermath of the bomb, so that it won't be used again.

    The next time Nagasaki survivors come to Hanford, he hopes they will find a national park that represents both American and Japanese points of view.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jenny Cunningham in Richland, Washington.

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