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Wednesday, Sep. 14, 2011

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At rest: Yukiteru Naka, a former GE employee, pays his respects to late GE manager Edward Cook at his grave in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 9. KYODO

American's Fukushima legacy lives on

GE manager who helped build reactor had his remains interred in prefecture


In the cemetery of Hosenji, a Buddhist temple about 8 km south of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, lie the remains of an American who worked as a General Electric Co. manager when the project to build the first reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 complex was under way.

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Friend of Fukushima: Edward Cook sits between wife June (right) and friend Kazuko Sagawa at his home in California in June 1976. COURTESY OF KAZUKO SAGAWA/KYODO

Edward Cook, a native of San Jose, California, had returned to the United States in 1971, but after his death at age 56 in 1979 his ashes were interred at the cemetery in accordance with his wishes to rest near the Fukushima plant.

Although his grave is located inside the 20-km evacuation zone around the plant, making it off-limits to local residents, the former GE manager is still very much in their thoughts.

Around 1970, Japan's nuclear industry was still in its infancy and had to rely on GE to design and set up the boiling-water reactor.

When he worked in Fukushima in those days, Cook loved to stroll along the pathway lined with cherry trees in nearby Yonomori Park, said his friend Kazuko Sagawa, 81, a resident of Iwaki.

"He used to say, 'After I die, I want to become part of the soil here so that I can help beautiful blossoms grow,' " she said.

Sagawa used to visit his grave three times a year — on the anniversary of his passing in November, in the spring when the cherry trees blossom and during the August Bon season when the Japanese pay homage to the souls of the dead who are believed to make their yearly return from the netherworld.

But now, the damaged nuclear plant — which continues to spew radioactive matter — has made these visits impossible.

Back in the late 1960s when Sagawa was teaching local students English, she wrote a letter to GE employees working on the Fukushima reactor, asking them to help her students hone their language skills. Cook graciously obliged.

"He was kind and considerate. He said it was great to have had the opportunity to socialize with ordinary Japanese," Sagawa said.

Prior to the disaster at the plant, Cook's wife, June, who lives in Sun City West, Arizona, said she wanted her ashes to be interred alongside those of her husband.

"That is impossible now. I've been too busy since the (March) earthquake and tsunami to get in touch with her. I have to write to her so that we can discuss what to do," Sagawa said.

Masahiro Takamatsu, 77, and Miyaki Suzuki, 82, both of whom worked under Cook, say they got to know him after he came to Japan around 1968. They said they were impressed by his gregariousness, picked up while serving in the U.S. Navy. He played the trumpet almost as well as a professional and is remembered for his lively personality, they added.

After Cook died, his Japanese friends, including Sagawa and Takamatsu, searched for a Buddhist temple that would take in his remains. His wife visited the country in 1980 to lay him in his final resting place at Hosenji Temple.

The inscription on his gravestone reads, "He resided in Yonomori when the No. 1 reactor was being built and deeply loved the people and natural landscape here."

Yukiteru Naka, 70, a former GE employee and current president of a subcontractor working for Tokyo Electric Power Co. to bring the nuclear crisis under control, has visited Cook's grave several times on his way to and from the plant.

"I want to bring the nuclear plant under control as soon as possible so that others can visit his grave," he said.

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