In some aspects, the state should be self-sufficient

7. 9. 2020

“There is still a strong generation of nuclear industry experts who have something to pass on” says the head of ŠKODA JS František Krček

MF Dnes, 7. 9. 2020

Since January 2020, František Krček has been the head of ŠKODA JS, one of the largest companies in the region. In his opinion, the company, like many others in the field, is at a crossroads and must decide which direction to take. If the current steps leading to the construction of a new nuclear power source in the Czech Republic slow down or even stop, there is a risk of interruption of continuity and departure of top experts out of the industry. "Let's give nuclear energy a perspective and it will be interesting for young people again. There is still a strong generation of people in their fifties who have experience and can pass it on,"says František Krček, the General Dirctor of ŠKODA JS.

Your company is currently replacing huge steam separators at the Temelín nuclear power plant. How important is this event for you?

In terms of projects implemented on running power plants, it is one of our largest events in the field of machinery reconstruction in many years. This is the largest device installation since the Temelín NPP commissioning. We have been working on this project for three years. The tender was announced in 2017 and now we are reaping the first fruits of our work. The device itself was manufactured by Balcke-Dürr GmbH.

According to published information, the shell weighs one hundred tons, is thirty meters long and over four meters high. What was the most difficult part of replacing the device?

The main problem was time. We had about 40 days for the actual replacement. If you shut down a nuclear power unit, every hour of outage costs the operator a lot of money. Every detail, every minute is planned. We had to make it in the time given by the operator. Dismantling the old equipment, installing the new one, making hundreds of welds with 100% X-ray inspection. Of course, many other works, such as turbine inspections, are taking place in the engine room at the same time. You also have to share the crane time. We have to do the same job at the other Temelín unit, nad I admire my colleagues already.

ŠKODA JS has been associated with Temelín for a long time…

The company has been operating in Temelín since its beginning. Among other things, we supplied the heart of the power plant - the reactor, we participated in construction and commissioning.  After 2002 we withdrew a bit, but since 2008 we have a service contract, which means that we are the general supplier of the primary circuit equipment maintenance. We are also in Dukovany, so in the Czech Republic we are responsible for the maintenance of all six units.

Do you still believe that you will participate in the completion of the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant? At what stage is the project preparation?

Now we are all impatiently waiting for the tender to be announced, what its conditions will be. It should happen by the end of the year. We prefer cooperation with all potential bidders, we negotiate with them, we clarify our possibilities and their interest.

What is actually hapenning in the famous Škoda reactor shop today, as new reactors have not been manufactured here for many years?

That is right, complete reactor sets with pressure vessels have not been made there for many years. But we still produce their internal parts - for 1600 MW EPR reactors to the British Hinkley Point C power plant, whose general contractor is the French concern Framatome. We have previously supplied the reactor internals to power plants in Finland and China. Here and there, someone says that we are a company of one project and we only know Russian reactors, but these mentioned projects show that it is not true. Furthermore, in the reactor shop we produce a number of types of packaging assemblies for spent nuclear fuel, commonly called casks.

I wanted to talk mainly about the people, your specialists. Nuclear components are not produced as much as they used to be, so are there still enough people who can actually do it?

Technical memory weakens, of course, but we are still active in this field. There are opinions that there has been a time of nuclear darkness since the launch of Temelín, but we are now building and commissioning two units at the Mochovce Nuclear Power Plant in Slovakia, which meet the latest legal, technological and safety requirements. Among other things, there is a reactor made by us. The third unit is just before the fuel loading and the fourth unit is almost eighteen months after it. We play a significant role in the primary circuit, there are hundreds of our people.

And are there young people with a professional education in nuclear energy?

Nuclear power industry is less attractive to engineers because they simply do not see the future. Even so, we still have enough young people here. We try to cooperate with secondary schools and universities not only in Plzeň and Prague, but also in Brno. As far as the working professions are concerned, it is a problem as everywhere. Apprenticeship education is very poor, finding good welders and locksmiths is difficult.

Do you use agency workers?

Not really. We were using them in production for some time, but in the NPP service it is basically impossible. Getting employees inside a power plant is not easy at all – they must have a clean criminal record, go through psychotests. On the primary circuit, employees must have a check by the National Security Office. It takes months to identify and prepare such a person. Agency workers are an ideal solution, for example, for the automotive industry - today they want eight of them, tomorrow sixteen, training takes few days. That is not possible in our business.

The police recently concluded the prosecution of five former ŠKODA JS executives of fraud and tax evasion, and filed charges. The Swiss convicted the Ukrainian politician and oligarch Mykola Martynenko of money laundering, which he allegedly collected from ŠKODA JS for arranging contracts with the Ukrainian Energoatom. What does it mean for your company?

As for the Swiss court's ruling, it does not concern ŠKODA JS and we have no reason to deal with it. We will not comment on the prosecution of individuals. The operation of the company is not affected in any way.

There was information about the planned sale of the company. Is it still relevant?

Some negotiations are in progress, but this is primarily managed by the owner.

The company has three main fields of activity - engineering, production and service. What is their main content?

As far as engineering is concerned, in addition to a number of other projects, our flagship is the completion of the Mochovce family. The question is, what then. We will have to fill in some bridging period until the construction of a new unit in Dukovany is really launched. For example, there is an opportunity to participate in projects in the field of gas power plants.

Are you sure additional resources are really needed?

Electricity will be needed and I am convinced that energy self-sufficiency is not a vulgar formulation. There are things in which the state should be self-sufficient. We claim to be Europeans in times of "peace", but when difficulties come, such as a lack of masks and respirators, each state solves its own problems. And let´s not have the illusion that it would be different in the event of a collapse in the energy sector. Furthermore, in future we expect the gradual decommissioning of coal-fired power plants, and if we do not develop the nuclear ones, gas-fired plants will remain the only source of electricity for the Czech Republic. And you certainly cannot call them low-emission. So everyone who has the opportunity to decide on energy policy today must consciously consider what the real possibilities are. For me, nuclear power is clearly the solution.

For the service, you mentioned the maintenance of six units at the Temelín and Dukovany nuclear power plants...

Plus we have a number of one-off events, various reconstructions and replacements of equipment. As for the production, in addition to the reactor internals, we mainly make the casks for spent nuclear fuel, drives for reactor control rods and other products.

What does it currently look like in the field of nuclear energy in general?

Some may feel that the era of nuclear energy is over, but at the moment 441 units are in operation and 54 are under construction in 18 countries. Construction of another 109 reactors is planned. In 2019, six units were put into operation, another three began to be built, nine were decomissioned. It is not the progress like before Fukushima, but it is not the end of nuclear power industry. I will repeat: those who claim that after the launch of Temelín in 2002 this industry ended up in the Czech republic, should explain how it is possible that a company like ŠKODA JS is still in profit all this time.

František Krček

  • 48 years old
  • graduated from the Brno University of Technology, field of Thermal and Nuclear Energy Machines and Equipment
  • in 1996, after graduating, he joined ČEZ at the Temelín nuclear power plant, participated in its construction and commissioning
  • in 2008 he started working at ŠKODA JS as a Temelín site manager
  • in 2013, he became the director of the NPP Service Division
  • In 2020, he was appointed the General Director and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of ŠKODA JS

ŠKODA JS

  • the former daughter of the Škoda holding is owned by the Russian engineering group OMZ, whose main shareholder is Gazprombanka
  • the company has 1100 employees
  • in 2019, the company reported a profit before tax of 244 million crowns with revenues of 4.7 billion CZK. Revenues according to international accounting standards IFRS were 15 percent higher year-on-year, profit strengthened by four percent
  • the engineering segment has 49% share in the comapany´s results , the rest is roughly equally shared by the service of the primary circuits of nuclear power plants and the production of internal parts for pressure vessels and containers for spent nuclear fuel and drive controls
  • significant contracts in recent years include the completion of Units 3 and 4 of the Mochovce nuclear power plant in Slovakia, the supply of control systems for the Paks power plant in Hungary and a share in the modernization of Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

MF Dnes, Martin Polívka, 7. 9. 2020

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