What They Saw
All the chelators they added (NTA, EDTA, etc.) decreased the hydrogenase activity in batch cultures, though to different extents. NTA was much stronger than EDTA. The effect was not inhibition of already-formed enzyme (since adding chelators to resting cells or extracts didn't affect activity), so it must be from preventing formation of additional enzyme.
They tried adding trace metal salts along with the chelators to see if pure excess of whatever was missing could restore activity. Copper, zinc, and manganese didn't really do anything. Cobalt helped if it was added in fairly large amounts, but the most helpful was nickel. Adding extra iron boosted this effect even more.
Monitoring nickel uptake by adding radioactive nickel, they saw that cyanide completely wiped out uptake (possibly by binding the nickel), but juglone and 2,4-dinitrophenol enhanced it (despite inhibiting respiration). Sodium azide didn't really affect either. The chelators they tested earlier generally seemed to inhibit nickel uptake too, generally in the same proportions as they had inhibited hydrogenase activity.
What This Means
Chelators seem to inhibit hydrogenase, but rather than acting on the enzyme directly, it seems to be by inhibiting its synthesis, and even this mechanism seems to be by inhibiting nickel uptake in most cases, rather than something more direct. Nickel is important for synthesizing the enzyme; it's a part of its essential cofactor. It seems like cobalt might be able to substitute for nickel somewhat though. I wonder if palladium would work too, since it has similar orbital arrangements. But apparently cobalt doesn't help in the absence of chelators or contaminating trace metals, so maybe it only helped here because it distracted the chelators away from nickel (so to speak).