Interview with Edwin Cheyney

Dublin Core


Interview with Edwin Cheyney


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Hanford Nuclear Site (Wash.)


An interview with Edwin Cheyney conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Date Modified

2016-05-30: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Laura Arata


Edwin Cheyney


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Cheyney_Ed

Laura Arata: Plus, if you make him mad, he's got a cane now he can smack you with.

Ed Cheyney: Well I got one I’m not doing with.

Arata: Nice.

Man: I guess it just--

Arata: That would be our first on camera cane dueling.

Cheyney: Right. [LAUGHTER]

Man: Okay, whenever you're ready.

Arata: Okay, we’re ready to go. All right. So if we could start out by having you say your name, and then spell it for us?

Cheyney: Sure. My name is Edwin Cheyney. C-H-E-Y-N-E-Y. It's also been pronounced chee-nee, with the extra Y in it. I was corrected many years ago that you're pronouncing it wrong. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: Really? So you learned about it, too?

Cheyney: I said, I didn't care, as long as it didn't get any worse.

Arata: Fair enough. My name's Laura Arata. Today is November 12, 2013, and we're conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So I wonder if we could start off by just having you tell me a little bit about when you came to Hanford, and what that first experience of coming to Hanford was like, and why you initially came here.

Cheyney: Okay, well, first of all, at that time, I was going to Spokane Technical and Vocational School, which is now Spokane Community College. And basically, the only way you could get out of class time is to go interview. Well, I was on—it’s three and a half years, and so, I was on the, actually, the last few months of my course. And this guy says, hey, let's get a carpool going, and go down to Hanford. Well, where's that? And he says, well, they're looking for employees. I think it was 13 at that time, for a special program with General Electric. So we get down there, and the first thing, and we got here early, at seven o'clock promptly. We were all escorted back into a room that had separate booths, and we were given time tests from seven o'clock till 12 noon. We were tested on about every kind of conceivable test that I could imagine, but it all related to my field of electronics and instrumentation. So anyway, it was about two weeks later. The ones that were in the carpool with me said they already got their rejection notice. And my teacher--I wasn't one of his favorite ones--and he just says, came to me, and says, well, you'll get yours. And I said, well, I'm sure I will. A month later, I get a call from my grandmother. I was living in Spokane and taking care of two of her apartment houses. And she says, you've got a registered letter. So I went to my teacher, and I said, I need to take my grandmother to the bank. He said, I've never heard of that one before. [LAUGHTER] So he let me go, and I got there, and I had a registered letter from General Electric. I really got excited. And it says, offered me a job. And I went back to the school. I plopped it down to the teacher, and says, well, there, I got my letter. He says, so what? And just turned his head. So, well, that's fine. At least I got proof. And I went to my two other instructors from previous years. They stopped everything. He said, look it. He's the only one out of the whole school's that's been offered a job down in Hanford. I still didn't know what I was getting into. [LAUGHTER] But I figured it was worth it. And we had to agree to the fact to go to three and half years more to CBC to special programs that GE selected. And that was no problem either. And then we worked only an eight hour shift, except on weekends, we could work overtime if that case came up. So basically, that's how I got in the front door. And it's sort of interesting that when I first came down here, my mother wanted to make sure that I got in a decent environment because I'd never cooked or anything. And so, GE, they'd recommended the best place where most go is the Statler Hotel. Well, I thought, well, let's go there. Well, we went in there, and my mother, of course, with me. When she saw the three gals there wearing mini-skirts and the whole thing, she almost ripped my arm off, says this isn't the place for you. I didn't see any problem with it, but she immediately took me up to the parish house, and says, is there somewhere decent that I could live? And she introduced us to this woman that was very motherly, very heavy set, very good cook. And said she'd board and room me. Well, of course, I got out on the project. There was lots and lots of indoctrinations that this is classified work, and you're not to discuss anything whatsoever. And the home then I was staying in, her husband was one of the managers out at D Reactor. And so first thing, he asked me, he says, what do you do out there? I says, I just work out there. He says, I know you can't describe anything, but he says, you can at least say your title. You're not getting yourself in trouble with that. I says, well, are you sure? He says, I wouldn't put you on the spot. And I says, I'm an instrument and control technician. And so, he didn't push me any further. And the one thing, before I left the neighborhood of Spokane, the FBI was checking up on me. And I had neighbors say, what kind of trouble are you in anyway? And I says, what do you mean trouble? And they says, the FBI was out checking on you. And I go, that's great. He says, what's great about it? I says, I think they're interested in me. [LAUGHTER] So that's basically how I got in the front door. And I started in the 300 Area, basically the canning lines. And with GE, you were only in a spot roughly three months to six months, and they rotated you because they wanted you to get the full feel of the different expectations that they had of you, and the way you could handle your so-called position, as far as instrument control calibration of all kinds of instrumentation, which, to me, I found really exciting because it was a new challenge. There was never, seemed like there was never a day that it wasn't something different. And I like that. And the challenges were quite different. And riding that bus for a nickel a day. You couldn't afford to drive anywhere. The only thing is, those buses didn't have air conditioning or anything. And when it started, when they moved me to the K Reactor--first it was B, C Reactors. When you had 100 degree weather, it was no fun after a shift, getting on the bus about 4 o'clock. It's good and hot and everything. About all you could do is just sit there and bear it. I usually just closed my eyes, and just figured, well, I'll get home pretty quick. And I just figured, well, it's good for a common cause. Also at that time, the salary was real good for someone that was just out of a tech school. My dad had a master's degree, was teaching five solid subjects, and the superintendent of schools at Hogan, Montana. And the first year, because I was living with the landlady's, their home, she also made use of me, and took me to grocery stores to help her carry stuff. And she took me to Zale’s and talked me into buying a men's diamond ring, which that's the last thing in the world I was really interested in, but I got talked into it. Well, I go up to see my dad, and he sees that. And he says, is that real? And I says, of course, it's real. But I says, it was stupid that I bought it. And I took it off, and said, you can have it. And he said, well, what kind of money are you making? At that point in time, I had made a little over $2,500 more than he'd made. And that really changed his whole attitude about tech school because when I graduated from school, I had to be in his classes, and I took lots of insults. And when he asked me when I graduated, what are you going to do? I says, I'm not sure yet. And then, when I told him I was going to tech school, he says, you just will be a grease monkey. Well, that changed his whole attitude, that maybe--He says, I just can't see why and how they can pay you that kind of money. I says, Dad, they pay you for what you can do with your hands, too. And from then on, he had a whole different feel about it. So that's getting off of what I was doing in Hanford. But going to the different sites, like I said, the challenges were always different. And I think the thing that really impressed me the most is the feeling of the power and energy that was going on. And especially when I was given the tour to go, first, up to the water treatment plant. That was massive enough. I was told could easily take care of the whole city of Los Angeles. And they showed me a wet well, and in it was all these lights with no insulation or anything. And they're on. I says, how come they don't short out? He says, in pure water, there's no conduction. And the mass of water that was going down through the pumps, and through the reactor core itself, the ground just vibrated. I'd say it was at least a good two city blocks, if not longer. You just feel the rumbling. And it's just a massive power. And you go in the reactor area, you just hear all this rushed water. Another thing that was impressive, you look outdoors at this big million gallon tanks of boiling water coming right off the reactor. It could be 100 degrees outdoors, and it had a 200 foot plume at least. And it really made me think, especially in later years when you start realizing what all is going on. It was a graphite core reactor, the same kind of reactor that Chernobyl had. They were foolish in what they were doing. They weren't using nuclear engineers or physicists, and doing all kinds of dangerous experiments. But they reminded me that when I went in to watch, and a lot of times we referred to it, we're controlling a nuclear bomb. And when the operations, especially at operations, they start pulling rods, waiting for things to go critical, it got real exciting, real quiet. And they had two to three guys watching everything, all the instrumentation to see when things were starting to go critical. And it just really amazed me how smart they were, and how careful they were in their operations. And at the same token, it made you well aware that we're really controlling something really massive. And later, roughly, I'd say about every six months or so, they rotated you. They moved me to the K Reactors. Now those were the two world's largest producing plutonium reactors. And that was even more exciting. And of course, a whole lot bigger, and a whole lot more things going on. And eventually, I don't know if it was because of my interest, or my attitude or what, they gave me the opportunity to go into the irradiation testing group, which was a whole lot more involvement. And that was going into, I won't go into a whole lot of detail. They were putting, I'll say samples, into the core of the reactor during operation for different tests for Atomic International, NASA, and there was a few others. But they had a lot of instrumentation, monitoring, and analyzing what's going on. Of course, because being rotated around, actually, what happened then was I just became journeyman, and General Electric announced that they're phasing out. That was a real scary thing for the simple fact they were laying off thousands of people, not hundreds. And being that I was on their special training program, they had an agreement with the union, only take a certain percentage of us to lay off. And go off, like, they lay off 2,000 workers, they might take three or four of us. But when it got down to the last two weeks at General Electric, I was down into the last group. Now when they put me on that status, then they immediately transferred me out of the K Reactors down to the canning lines. And that's where they actually had, oh, what do I want to say, molten metal for sealing the canisters for the fuel for the reactor. And so, when you knew when you were down there that you were on your way out--Well, on Friday, the last Friday of the second week of GE, I got my lay-off notice. Well, this probably about does it, but I put in my name. I thought, well, I want to stay nuclear. I put in my name for the nuclear bomb testing down in Nevada. I immediately got results back. We'd like to hire you, and the only thing is, they're offering me basically the same salary, but I had to move myself. And I thought, well, to heck with that. The following Monday, so I got a notice on Friday, the following Monday, my supervisor comes to me, and he says, how would you like to work for Douglas United Nuclear? I says, I'd love to work for Douglas United Nuclear. He says, well, you'd be doing the same thing you're doing. And so, tear up your lay-off notice. So I stayed with Douglas United Nuclear. And not to go into a whole lot of details of the same thing, it wasn't long they announced shutting down more reactors. The handwriting was on the wall. You aren't going to be here very long. And so, I put my name in with Battelle Northwest, and I put my name with KEPR TV station, because at school I had earned a commercial FCC license, so I could go that way. I thought, all right. I'll get out of government. I'll go into this. Well, it was on a Thursday night. I got called by both Battelle and by KEPR. And I said, well, I wanted to—to Battelle, I told them I wanted to just check into this one job first. Well, it turned out real quick that that didn't have anywhere near what to offer that Battelle. So I went to Battelle. It was through Battelle, then, I got into a whole lot more avenues of the nuclear field. And they moved me everywhere where they felt that they wanted me or needed me. I worked--first, they were going to move me out in the areas, or that's what they promised me, and the first day on the job, they put me in the 300 Area again in the fabrications department. Well, Battelle's in everything. And the next thing, I was assigned on an engineer. He basically gave you a schematic, or a drawing, of what he wanted, and you had to from there, get everything you need, put it together, wire it up, test it, and turn it over to the engineer. Well, that was really exciting because it was a whole different challenge, including making your own printed circuit boards, which I'd never done. Basically, it's a photographic process, and I've always been interested in that. And so, it wasn't long—they wanted, the engineering department then wanted me, and moved me down to the sand castle. And of course though, when they have a contract that ends, so does the job. But in the meantime, they had the computer lab at the sand castle for the FFTF mock up. And I guess, my understanding was the first time they ever had analog digital computers working together to simulate FFTF. That went great until Governor Dixy Lee Ray came down and removed that job, that responsibility from Battelle. Well, I got moved out into the 300 Area again, and different labs, and HTLTR, PRTR, and all the different ones. But again, every one of them was exciting. Every one was a different challenge. Well, in the meantime, there's a gentleman that got hurt at home. And he worked out at the 200 Areas, and that was top secret work. And so that required having more checks on me. And then when you were approved, you had a blue tag on your badge. The only thing that I really feel comfortable disclosing was the fact that, again, it was really exciting. The big thing was that they assigned you to specific cells only. And no one had the same cells, and no one was-- basically, I was told because this way, you'll never try to put things together. You just do your job, and mind your own business. And that's fine with me. And then, as soon as this gentleman was able to come back to work, then I was put on with, they asked me if I'd like to work at the weather station. That's out at the 200 Areas also. That, I was to work on the telemetry stations. I thought that's really neat because it had weather stations at a 65 mile radius that I traveled every day, checking stations, and setting them up for monitoring radiation, temperature, wind speed, and et cetera. And the only thing is, it was a great adventure, watching, or being at the different areas. And that's when it came to my light, I didn't realize that during the time I was out in the 100 Areas, I don't know when because I never saw it, that they had Nike missile sites. And where that refreshed my memory is when I was out a K Areas one night, on graveyard shift, and I was with a gentleman. And we were outside, and we had just got through with, they had stack flow monitors to see what kind of effluents are going through, to make sure we're staying within limits. And he says, you know, it was really sort of funny. One night, he wouldn't say who, and I can see why, inflated a big air balloon, a weather balloon, and tied a flashlight to it, and set it up. Well, after it went up so far, next thing, a big—I think two military jets came flying over to see what the heck that was flying in the air. So some people had ways of—no one wanted to be identified on that one because they did have missile sites. I found that one out on my weather stations out at the Wahluke Slopes, but they pretty well destroyed everything. And I thought this was really, really, was pretty well covered and protected. Which thank God it was, but we weren't aware of that stuff. So it was full of excitement. And I never knew what I was going to be stuck with the next day. The only thing is, like with Battelle, and that's while I was doing the weather stations, I was watching--one of the sites I had was right out on the Hanford site, and it was right out there where they were starting up Whoops, and they were digging this massive, massive hole in the ground. And we had to set up a weather station there. And so I got really interested in that, and basically, I thought, you know, I've always wanted to see something like this being built from the ground up. So I put my name in there, and three months later I was hired in, and spent the last 27 and a half years there. But that's basically in a nutshell what I was involved with. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: Sounds like you were involved in a lot of different jobs, and I wonder--you mentioned that you worked at B, C, and K Reactors. So I wonder if you could talk just a little bit about what maybe some of your different jobs there were. Whatever you're comfortable with.

Cheyney: Oh, sure. Well, especially in the B, C Reactor Areas, like I say, while I was going to school, you weren't allowed any overtime. But on weekends, you were. Another interesting thing when you're back home, if they wanted you, like, for a reactor goes down, they call you up, you say yes, they send a person out in a car. They pick you up, and take you out there, and they also bring you back home. Some of those jobs, I actually was out at the plant for two days at a time. But one of them, like in the B, C Reactor, especially now that we can go visit and everything, it brought back the recollection of the reactor had gone down, and they were doing repair of thermocouples. That's temperature measurement. And you had to go to the rear face of that reactor in a wetsuit, and, of course, PCs under that, and go in there, and go behind where those tubes are, pull out this little two conductor wire, and take and cut it, splice it, and basically bond it together, and then solder it there. And here you've got water's dripping from 100 feet up. You're trying to heat this thing up enough to make it bond. And then call the control. Now are they getting an indication? And then, of course, you'd have to re-insert it back down into the well it was in. That was one of the things I'll never forget because it was so dark back there and everything. You did not want to be claustrophobic. You could easily touch the back of the wall with your back, and you'd have the tubes in front of you. Of course, the interesting thing there is before anyone ever goes in there after a shutdown, they discharge all those tubes down into 15 feet of water, and you see all this blue going down there below you. That never bothered me either, other than thank God, it's down 15 feet under water. Well, in the K Reactors--the B Reactor, I just had a lot of general routines of, like in the powerhouse, there's all kinds of instrumentation for controlling those big boilers. Of course, that was coal fired. And the water treatment facilities, measuring the pH of the water, and the chemistry that goes into it. And then K Reactors, I got to go in. Now they were putting in the high speed scanning system for measuring temperature. And instead of using thermocouples, they used RTDs. And they were going into, I think it was about the second year I was at K Reactors, that again, they shut down to replace all those. Well, again, I get called, I come out there. It's at midnight. I'm well over 100 feet up in the air running these thermal bulbs down through in between the tubes while there's another guy riding the elevator down to the point of what tube it was to be installed into. And it was sort of relaxing up there. It was interesting, but it just seemed like forever. Another incident—of course, as soon as you finish your college requirements that they put on, I was immediately put on D shift. And it just--I didn't like shift because it was one day a week, swings, days, and graveyards on a continuous cycle. I was with the technician this one day. We were up in full operation at this point in time, but they were wanting to check—they were having problems. And so, he and I were assigned to go into the control room. They had—I won't give the exact number; I'll say there was well over 3,000 pressure gauges called panel gauges. They're monitoring the pressure of the water of the tube itself, and that's 3,000 plus. And this panel, you're in the control room, you hear all this click, click, click, click. And they're all moving. If anything, if any one of them goes over pressure or under pressure, immediately, it dumps that whole complete plant. Everything comes through a massive—you hear lots of equipment slamming shut, and the control rods drop. Well, anyway, I guess I was still considered a trainee at that time. We had to change out one of those little pressure gauges. Behind the panel, it's all full of tubing and wiring. They're all in series with each other, so that means if any one's interrupted, it dumps everything. So to get around that, to replace a gauge, you had to take, you had jumpers. So you put a jumper, and you jumper off that gauge. And then when you're all ready to try to dismantle, and pull it out and put another one, you pull the jumpers out of it. Well, the gentleman that was taking me through this, showing me and telling me how careful, as soon as he pulled the one jumper, boom. The plant went down. [LAUGHTER] Oh no. I don't know what color I turned, but I know that he says, oh no. He went out, he says, we did it, we did it. They says, hold on. They had to check it. And it turned out it was something else, but it happened at the same time that we pulled that jumper. So there was times that it made you plenty nervous because you don't make anyone happy if you dump the plant. You don't get fired, but the embarrassment of it—you try to take a lot more pride in it than that. And so, that's basically, sort of in a nutshell the B, C Reactors. It's really interesting to go out there and look at it now. I certainly encourage anyone that has the opportunity. It brings back a lot of memories. The biggest thing I remember is you go in the control room there, the first one that they let off. You go in the control room there, it looks like a little dinky space. It didn't seem that dinky to me then. But if you go into the K Reactors, it looks like a gymnasium compared to that, as far as the size of the control room and the equipment that was there. So a lot to compare it with, but the things that just always impressed me was you could feel from the tremor of the grounds and everything, that there was massive power. And it had to be to generate that much heat, and have that much steam coming out of those millions of gallons—I don't know exactly what. The only thing that disturbed me, and I questioned it at the time, riding the bus, going past the 200 East Area, a lot of times, the winds would bring down that brownish plume. And it'd come right in the bus, and your nose would burn. And I'd say, isn't that bad for you? Why is it on a big stack, and it's coming down here? Oh, nothing to worry about. Well, thank God, I don't think I ever got anything from it. There was a lot of things that went on that you could question, but you probably wouldn't get much for an answer. In fact, when I—I get bounced around on things—when I was doing the weather system for them, in the winter time, we were given snowmobiles because we did Rattlesnake Mountain, and the whole bit. And so they had their own trailer with the snowmobiles. Well, I had to go into the Two West Area, and immediately, this one guard, he must have been new. He says, pull over there, and don't go anywhere. Well, this is new. And he comes up, he says, sir, I hate to tell you this, but you can't be bringing your recreational vehicles in here. I said, sir, would you mind reading what's on those snowmobiles, and read what's on the trailer? It says property of the Atomic Energy Commission. He looks at it. He thought it was crazy. He says, well, I'm sorry. [LAUGHTER] So you're all the time being tested. But in general, I always considered it probably one of the greatest experiences. I'm really thankful to the good Lord that I worked 44 and a half years. I'm not trying to brag, but I was never unemployed. They kept me plenty busy.

Arata: It sounds like it. It sounds like you had many different jobs.

Cheyney: Well, with instrumentation and monitoring everything under the sun, temperature, pressure, level, et cetera. Even one, that reminded me—not to go on and on and on—but in the 300 Area, while I was down there, they sent me to the so-called bursting facilities. And I thought, now what the heck's that? Well, we'll find out. And I go there, and they had these different cells, and they had high pressure systems. And they take different materials of piping, and they hook up all these apparatuses on both ends. And they put it in a cell, and put on all kinds of monitoring equipment to test pressure, temperature, et cetera. And what they do, when they get ready to test, you get out of there, you go back in the control room, and they run up until that pipe virtually breaks open. And again, for studies. But they had a lot of studies going on before they ever used a lot of material. So it was, like I say, always exciting. I enjoyed it, but you never knew what you were going to be assigned with. And it seemed like they didn't mind sending me around.

Arata: Sounds like it. I wonder if I could have you talk just a little bit about starting in the '60s, and then having this great 44-year career unhampered. Certainly, the technology changed a great deal in that time. Could you talk a little bit about what sorts of technology changes you encountered working there?

Cheyney: Well, sure. It's sort of interesting. When they first put me out in the 300 Area, of course, I was assigned with different technicians almost every day. And anyway, this one technician—and you've could sense when right off the bat, well, you're a fresh one from out of school, so you probably don't know much or anything. And I was given this elderly gentleman, and he takes me to his own little shop area he had. As a matter of fact, it happened to be where the bursting facilities was, and he says, what do you know about recorders? I says, well, I was thinking of electronic recorders, a magnetic tape type recorder. I says, well, if you're talking about magnetic tape recorders, I says, I think I know quite a bit about them. What do you got? He says, well, what do you know about recorders? What do you know about L&N recorder? And I says, not a thing! Can you show me what you're talking about? He brings out this great, big, heavy, old chunk of iron. It's an L&N recorder. It has a galvanometer movement in it. I knew what that was. But I thought, what do you with that piece of junk? I'd use it for a boat anchor. [LAUGHTER] But I didn't say that because I knew it would disrupt him a lot. He says, do you know how to calibrate—or wind your own resistors for the bridge that it requires for it? I says, no. You give me a formula, and I'll work it out. He said, great. So he gives me what values he wanted. Okay. So then he hands me this spool and this wire. He says, all right, make your own resistor. I said, what is this? [LAUGHTER] He says, you've got to make your own resistor. So I kept going down on wire until I got exactly the resistance, cut it off, then I had to treat it and the whole thing. I just followed along with him. And I make these several spools of resistors, and put it in. And then he had me taking, apply a signal to see where the galvanometer would move, and the whole thing. I thought, now just how antiquated can this get? [LAUGHTER] He didn't like it too well or anything, but I thought, I could learn something from everybody. And it was really interesting because as I got out into the K Reactors, well, now they had all, at this time--that time--they had vacuum tube amplifiers. And yes, they had their own bridge circuits and stuff, but you didn't go winding your own resistors or anything. In fact, it all came from the factory pre-certified and et cetera. And so, I saw a big change there in the counting type equipment, and the measuring of temperature. Things changed tremendously. Now in the pneumatic end, that's air-driven instruments, which I never really was fond of. I liked electronics. It was a lot faster. Air-driven, even though that is very accurate for monitoring pressure, and the whole thing, is very slow. You make a move. You wait. Electronics, it's right there. And that was a big change I've seen. And of course, as they got—especially like that K Reactor—so much more massive and everything, they had to be a lot more sophisticated. And so, I could see one heck of a change. And poor old B Reactor was about as old-fashioned as you could get. But it amazes me how they handled the whole thing from the ground up, and we didn't have any major catastrophe. They did have at K Reactors—and I didn't realize the possible danger I was in—they did have where the core did catch on fire. And at least with the monitoring equipment they had, it was where they could respond fast enough to start changing control rods. But it took them a while to get that out. But at least it wasn't like Chernobyl. Chernobyl, they had no chance. In fact, we had videos of--and I'm jumping clear into--where we were shown videos. The fact that when they cut off all the safety systems, they apparently had no knowledge of how fast, when a chain reaction starts, how fast could it be when it goes critical. Because it totally blew everything up, and that's with a graphite core. And unfortunately, people think that, like Energy Northwest out there, that has water as a moderator. There's no graphite whatsoever, a whole different thing. And graphite does burn. And the sad thing is, understand, I've heard that there wasn't a single person that was around Chernobyl that was trying to save the area that is alive today. At least, thank God, we do have a lot more safety concerns. But I don't know if I've totally answered what you're looking for, between the difference, but it was a massive difference. Of course, then when I went over to Energy Northwest, the equipment, as far as recorders, they didn't even have vacuum tubes. Everything's solid state. Pretty much, the current state of the art, or even making changes to be more current, to the more current methods. So it always gave you a different challenge. But I like the changes. And I learned real quick. No matter who, you learn from everyone. And I know my first supervisor, he was sort of like a dad, and he'd, after about two weeks there, he called me in. And he says, I see that you were really raised strict. I says, why do you say that? He says, you don't let anyone disturb you, but you don't come back with any smart aleck remarks. I says, everyone's got something to offer, good or bad. I says, I'm not here for that. I'm here to learn, and I'm here to carry out what you want me to carry out. It was always exciting. And I have no regrets. In fact, most thought that I would never even quit. I quit when I was 66. I figured, well, maybe I should take time out to enjoy life. And I'm glad that I did. I don't miss it. I never tried to think about retirement, or play it into my mind until, I think it was about--well, the last day, I even went out, worked regular assignments until the last four hours. And then, finally, my boss says, well, come on in. There's no use to go any further. And I thought, well, now I can lay everything down, and walk out that gate, and I won't feel like I'm in a pen. [LAUGHTER] It was a great experience.

Arata: It sounds like it. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about the K Reactor shut down. And I understand there was some talk of maybe starting it back up, and that ultimately didn't happen. Since you worked there--

Cheyney: Right. Well, I heard mostly about that, of course, when I was away from there. And I thought, it was really, really a disappointment. It was really sad. In fact, I think it was pretty much getting into that process when I was down at Battelle. And they were doing some tests out there, and I got to go with an engineer. He wanted me to go out there and help with some equipment. And going in there, everything's stone cold. Everything's stone quiet. Such a massive structure doing absolutely nothing. I thought, what a waste. And what are they going to do? Like I said, I didn't hear a whole lot about it, but it came and really hit home when I went in there, and they're worried about rodents and everything else. That isn't the reactor that I saw. And the excitement that was behind it has just, all is dead. And going back through some of the corridors, and into one of the areas they were experimenting with, just hardly could see around. They had some test equipment. I didn't question exactly what are they monitoring. I'm sure a lot they're looking for, is there any possible contamination concerns or anything? But speaking of contamination concerns, it's just like when any of those reactors had what they call a rupture. That's where a fuel element breaks open, and the material’s going out into that water stream. And what they do is they immediately divert it to, they had a big open area, a pit area where all that high contaminated water went into. And guess what's out there in the winter time? Ducks are swimming in that hot water. And I thought, I wouldn't eat anything around here. [LAUGHTER] But I think there's quite a bit that substantiates all that. In fact, Battelle's doing a lot of research in animals and stuff, and even the materials that they've, the feces material and everything is, like, up in the 5R range, which you wouldn't even want to be near that. And I thought, they've got a lot to learn out there of studying the habitat around there, but I wouldn't want to eat anything. [LAUGHTER] Again, I'm off on another subject. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: That's okay. So overall, I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about any aspects of your work that you found the most challenging, and sort of the most rewarding. Or just overall, how Hanford was as a place to work during the time you were there.

Cheyney: Well, during the time I was there, as far as—I was really impressed with General Electric. They always gave me a feeling of a positive attitude. Also, a very strong feeling that you don't talk about your exact work because it's for the security of the country. And at the same token, I think where it became more rewarding and more relaxing to me is actually when I went to work out at, at that time, Whoops. And at that time, seeing all of the things that go into making a plant, you learn to respect things different. When I went to terminate from Battelle, they says, why in the heck do you want to go there? They're never going to ever operate. I says, well, I'm young enough yet. I want to see what I can learn out of it, and if it don't work--They says, if it don't work, come back here, we'll give you a job. I thought, I bet you will. [LAUGHTER] But I think maybe they were sincere, but I found it really rewarding there. I got involved with--and I never dreamt that I would—is working with robots, going into highly radioactive zones to do monitoring, and to observe what's going on, like steam leaks or anything. So you're not putting anyone in any danger. Out of that, I was surprised, I got an award from, I can't think of the name right now, from the company that was behind it. It was back east, and they sent a plaque awarding me that I contributed to something that basically made things safer, that didn't expose man to. And yet, I found it really exciting because I've always been excited about cameras, and this was working with cameras and with remote control of a little robot. And I made quite a few improvements, and so, I considered maybe that was one of the highlights. It was rewarding. I wasn't expecting anything. I just enjoyed that they let me go on it. And I also worked—I wore two hats in the last years at Energy Northwest, in that I volunteered because they couldn't get anyone else that would go there to write procedures. There was five originally that volunteered, and we all five took on the challenge. And inside of a couple months, it was down to two of us. It ended up, it was down—it was basically myself. And the main reason is, is because you're writing the instructions for that technician to go out and perform a function. If that causes anything like dump the plant, or any kind of danger, you go before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and you may be serving time. Well, to protect myself, I always went before engineering, and discussed, and made them put their name on the dotted line with me that, yes, this is right. This is the only way to go about it, or the best way to go about it. And it was rewarding to me from the standpoint that if they needed an extra hand, they'd pull me right off of that, and I was back out on the plant. So I got away from it, just continuing. Like I say, the challenges seemed to never end. And I really, for a while, thought, I don't know, maybe I won't quit. They always teased me that I would be there when they shut the lights out. Well, I'm glad I didn't because getting away from it, as I get older, different medical issues. But I'm still blessed with the fact that I can get around. [LAUGHTER]

Arata: Mm-hm. Is there anything that I haven't asked you about, that we haven't had a chance to hear you talk about that you'd like to share? Any other humorous incidents? Or just anything that stands out in your mind from that time?

Cheyney: Well, it wasn't a humorous incident, but one thing that GE pointed out, well, I guess it was an incident as far as, and of course, it was to teach everybody a lesson, is this one gentleman saw this real neat tool in his eyes. So he decided he'd take it home with him. It turns out it was a contaminated piece of equipment. And so, when they detected that it was missing, all they had to do was they got out their radiation monitors. They had an approximate idea. They could go right to his doorstep. And they went in, and they cut out chunks out of his carpet. Everywhere he'd been in his house, they were cutting out samples. And so I think it was a lesson well learnt. Keep your hands off of it. [LAUGHTER] In a way, I thought it was sort of funny. It's not really funny, though. But taking that kind of, obviously, carelessness, at least it really hit home. It isn't worth it.

Arata: All right. So I wanted to ask you, for general purposes, most of my students were born after the Cold War. They don't remember this time. So what would you like, sort of, that generation or future generations to know about working in Hanford, as this very important aspect of America's place in the Cold War, and winning the Cold War?

Cheyney: Well, I think the main thing is, the big thing is, I'm just trying to figure out how to put it. You shouldn't be afraid of nuclear. If you really know all the facts behind it, and all of the precautions behind it, it is one heck of a rewarding career. And it is something that I think I'm probably a whole lot healthier, and a whole lot that I know that have never had anything to do with nuclear, and yet, my whole life, basically, has been out there. And it definitely is rewarding in regards to the financial side. Well, I can relate it to my older son, when he was graduating, I says, well, what are you going to do? Because I'd never heard him discuss anything. He says, I'm going to be an instrument tech. I said, where'd you get that idea? [LAUGHTER] And he says, well, I want to do what you did, and I want to make the money you've made. And he went to Perry Tech, and he did real well. And I even, through my supervision, of course, was instrumental, and got him on a few outages out here. But he went on down to the only place where you got a permanent job. But again, instrumentation, the same, similar type of equipment for different purposes down at SCH, where it was making silicon wafers for all these integrated circuits. All the latest technology, it's a Japanese firm. They're very stern, very strict. Well, he had the most seniority and everything there, I think it was 12 and a half years. When it came to lay off and cutbacks, because they're very competitive, he was one of the first ones to let go. Now to try to find work, well, he's been able to get on to outages all throughout the country. So, even though he's had nothing there, right now he's in Raleigh, North Carolina. A month ago, he was down in Florida. And he's getting to see country that I haven't seen, and there's a lot of adventures yet, but he's still dealing with nuclear. It’s definitely, it's nothing to be afraid of; it's something to respect. And I'd say it definitely has a lot of opportunity if a person really wants to make the good money. I know, like I say, it's what you can do with your hands. Of course, you have to use your head too, but there's opportunity that you can really do well.

Arata: I want to thank you very much for coming in, and sharing your memories with us. We really appreciate it.

Cheyney: Well, I hope I've contributed something that's--I enjoy talking about what I can talk about it. It's left me with memories I'll never forget. And I thank you for the opportunity.

Arata: Well, we are very happy to have you. I love your description of standing behind B Reactor, and looking down in those kind of cool, glowing--



Bit Rate/Frequency

203 kbps

Hanford Sites

D Reactor
K Reactor
300 Area
B Reactor
C Reactor
200 Area
100 Area

Names Mentioned

Ray, Dixie Lee


Cheyney, Edwin.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Edwin Cheyney,” Hanford History Project, accessed May 25, 2022,