Hanford and Nagasaki, forever linked by atomic bomb

Hanford and Nagasaki, forever linked by atomic bomb

Half a world apart, the two are linked forever in the birth of the Atomic Age.

For 75 years, they have stood in the shadow of more famous counterparts — Hiroshima and Los Alamos.

To much of the world, they remain afterthoughts that rate only a couple paragraphs in most books on World War II.

Neither had anything to do with the most famous nuclear bomb — the one that devastated Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945.

But Hanford and Nagasaki played critical roles in history.

The bombing of Nagasaki was the last major act of World War II.

Nagasaki, founded by a Portuguese navigator who sailed with Magellan, was home to munitions makers and shipbuilders during World War II.

Its torpedoes, nestled in the belly of Japanese bombers on Dec. 7, 1941, helped destroy the Navy’s Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Some 10,000 miles away from Nagasaki the Hanford nuclear reservation was midwife to the Atomic Age, site of the world’s first full scale nuclear reactor.

In the Eastern Washington desert, 50,000 workers accomplished in just two years a scientific and engineering feat, the likes of which the nation has not seen since.

Hanford Manhattan_Project file
Workers line up to buy items at a Hanford camp store. With 51,000 people living in the camp during the war, the handful of hastily constructed stores at the site were kept busy. Residents also could catch a bus into Pasco for shopping. Supplied

Until shortly before Hanford began to rise out of the desert of Eastern Washington, the entire supply of plutonium in the world was about as large as the head of a pin.

The project was urgent as the Allies feared the Nazis were also working on an atomic bomb. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was alerted by Albert Einstein.

Only a handful of workers at Hanford knew what the secret plant was being built to produce

The moment that forever fused Hanford and Nagasaki was 11:02 a.m., Aug. 9, 1945.

From 1,650 feet above, “Fat Man,” an atomic bomb containing a warhead of Hanford plutonium, flattened the city of 240,000 people.

In one-fifth of one second, the fireball was a quarter-mile wide. Its mushroom cloud climbed to 30,000 feet in eight minutes.

Nagasaki bomb.jpg
A mushroom cloud climbed to 30,000 feet after the atomic bomb containing a warhead with Hanford plutonium was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, on Aug. 9, 1945. Courtesy Library of Congress

Heat vaporized humans into ashes. Bodies stacked up waist-high. Rivers ran red with blood. The remaining rubble caught fire. Nearly 74,000 people died, another 75,000 were injured.

The bomb destroyed 11,574 homes and damaged another 18,409, leaving 120,000 survivors homeless.

A photo from the U.S. Signal Corps shows the devastation shortly after an. atomic bomb with Hanford plutonium exploded over Nagasaki, Japan on Aug. 9, 1945. AP File

Just three days earlier — when an atomic bomb fueled with uranium, rather than plutonium, detonated over Hiroshima — Hanford workers learned of their role in world history.

“It’s Atomic Bombs!” shouted the all-caps headline across the top of the Richland Villager newspaper Extra edition on Aug. 6

Eight days later the headline “PEACE!” stretched across the entire front page. “Our Bomb Clinched it!” it said.

It was Aug. 14 , the day Japan surrendered, ending the war.

An atomic bomb has not been used for war since.

Hanford’s historic B Reactor, the world’s first full-scale nuclear reactor, went critical on Sept. 26, 1044. Courtesy TRIDEC

Hanford commemoration

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Hanford had planned to commemorate the bombing of Nagasaki with visitors strolling past luminarias on the river path of Columbia Marina Park in Richland as they reflected on the events of 75 years ago.

But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the event will be virtual.

From Aug. 9 through the end of the month, it will post “Lights for Peace” on its 75th Commemoration webpage.

The virtual event will feature the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers performing “Over the City” in English and Japanese and the flickering lights of candle luminaries along the banks of the Columbia River.

Go to bit.ly/75thNagasaki to view “Lights for Peace and for other articles and virtual events of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Days of Peace and Remembrance.

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