Obituary: Walter B. Thee / Engineer wversaw nuclear power plants

Aug. 22, 1925 - Aug. 22, 2012

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Walter B. Thee lived a life of precision as a nuclear engineer who oversaw the construction of nuclear power plants around the world for Westinghouse Electric Co.

And, his family said it appears he continued that life of precision up to the end, dying precisely on his birthday, said his daughter, Gwen, of Murrysville. Mr. Thee, 87, died at his Murrysville home Tuesday of heart and lung failure.

"He was an engineer to the Nth degree and he would have liked the fact that it was precise to die on his birthday," Ms. Thee said.

Mr. Thee's family described him as a Missouri farm boy who left the family farm in St. Joseph first to serve a stint in the Merchant Marine during World War II, then to earn a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, graduating first in his class from the University of Missouri.

The degree got him a job with Babcock & Wilcox, which at the time was just entering the nuclear power industry. At Babcock & Wilcox, Mr. Thee was among the first group of professionals to be trained as nuclear engineers.

Several years later, he went to work for Westinghouse in the Pittsburgh area and was involved in 1956 in the construction of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Beaver County, the first full-scale, non-military nuclear power plant built in the United States.

Following Shippingport, Mr. Thee was the lead engineer for the first pressurized water reactor built in Europe, the BR3, in Belgium. When that was completed in 1962, he then became responsible for the construction of three more nuclear power plants -- one each in Italy, Switzerland and Sweden.

Mr. Thee then returned to Pittsburgh for several years before moving his family to Japan to become the president of Westinghouse Nuclear-Japan, a position that put him in charge of all nuclear business in Japan for 10 years.

His last project with Westinghouse was the development of the Sizewell nuclear power plant in England.

"It was the final first-generation power plant that Westinghouse built," Ms. Thee said. "At his retirement it was noted that his career spanned the entire first generation of power plants. They are now building second-generation plants."

Ms. Thee said her father's career made for an interesting life for their family as she and her brother, Bruce, of Reno, Nev., grew up in five countries speaking three languages.

She said her father was a man of high intelligence and quick wit.

"He had a great sense of humor and he was known for that. He was very quick-minded -- no matter what anyone said he could react instantly," Ms. Thee said.

But his wife of 64 years, Irene, said his most notable quality was that he treated everyone he met equally. "He spoke to kings and he spoke to janitors and no matter what stage of life people were in he treated them all the same," Mrs. Thee said.

In addition to his children and wife, Mr. Thee is survived by a granddaughter.

There was no visitation or funeral at Mr. Thee's request, his daughter said. "He wanted people to remember him the way he was," she said.

obituaries

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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