He met a herd of wild horses in the Carpathians. Fortunately, he didn't have to face a bear.

4. 12. 2023

Source: Jihočeské týdeníky

He was trained as an auto mechanic. However, instead of cars, Mike Ernesto Hönnicke inspects and repairs valves that close or open various pipes in a nuclear power plant. He likes to clear his head by getting some fresh air. He has recently climbed the Romanian Carpathians. "It was a completely different world. We came across a herd of wild horses, for example," explains the young ŠKODA JS engineer in an interview.

You're a trained mechanic. How did you get to work at Temelín?

I spent some time in Prague, but my girlfriend and I are from Týn and we wanted to come back here with our son. Moving is not just about "furniture", you have to deal with work as well. So I had a clear idea in that direction. I had always been attracted to working in a nuclear power plant, perhaps because my father had worked there as well. Another reason was definitely the excellent transport accessibility and the possibility to spend more free time with my family. When the opportunity to work at Temelín came up, I decided to take it.

You may work at Temelín, but not for ČEZ...

That's right. I work at ŠKODA JS. In autumn it will be four years. Coincidentally, ŠKODA JS is now a subsidiary of ČEZ, which mainly takes care of the nuclear facilities. A lot of people don't realise it, but you can find very interesting opportunities with nuclear power plant suppliers, for example. So Temelín is not only ČEZ, even though it is the owner and operator of the plant, but there are also a lot of companies that are involved in making sure that the plant is well prepared for operation.

What are your tasks exactly?

I am responsible for maintenance and inspection of valves. It's basically a jigsaw puzzle, which in practice means several steps - dismantling the valve from the pipe, disassembling it, cleaning it, doing a complete inspection, testing it on a pressure bench, reassembling it and finally putting it back on.

How many of these valves do you inspect per year?

There are thousands of different valves in the plant, from small as the palm of your hand to multi-ton monsters. Each one has its own specific maintenance. To inspect them, you just need conventional tools like wrenches and screwdrivers, and other times you need various special tools. The number of inspections varies from year to year, but can definitely range into hundreds.

I guess every valve has some specifics?

That's right. However, the procedure is the same everywhere. It all starts with the preparation of the work and materials. Everything must be secured so that we don't damage the equipment or injure ourselves while working. And then it's about the experience you gain over time. When I started out, I didn't know much about valves, but thanks to my colleagues, I quickly worked my way up and over time I understood the specifics of each valve. I thank my colleagues for that, we have a great team here.

I heard you're planning to expand your team…

Yes, we are. We can always use skilled hands here. There's plenty of work at Temelín and there will be more. Not only is there a lot of equipment here, but the plant is supposed to be in operation for another 40 years. And that needs both stability and perspective. During outages, there are a lot of tasks, and you don't get bored easily.

What would you expect from potential candidates?

Mainly an interest in technology. Someone who likes to take things apart and assemble them would be good. Ideally someone who, if I say, “hand me a socket wrench and a drive no.19”, will know what I want. And most importantly, he has to enjoy the work, we're not really hiring someone to help out on a weekly basis, we're building a team.

Let's go back to the valves. Which valve is one of the most challenging to inspect?

It is a valve from Flowserve company, which is an important safety valve. It is a large piece of equipment that weighs two tonnes approximately. There are only two of us in the plant who can operate this valve. We’re doing an inspection once every four years. The inspection takes two to three weeks, and it is always very interesting.

And which valves are among your favourites?

I prefer the smaller valves that require a lot of precision and attention, almost like watchmaking. But even the big valves, which you manipulate with a crane, they also have something special about them. It makes the work very varied, and that's what's so interesting about it.

How do you clean your head?

I like technology in my spare time as well. I also like to build computers and gaming is closely related to that. I have a group of friends that I like to play online with when we have time.

I also heard you're an enthusiastic hiker?

Yes, I like high altitude hiking. It's the best thing for me to clear my head. Recently, my friends and I hiked the highest mountain of the Romanian Carpathian Mountains, Fagaras. It took us a week. But it was worth it, we entered a completely different world.

How high did you get?

Fagaras is 2,500 metres. We were at the top. On one hand, it's physically demanding, with a 30-kilogram backpack you go uphill all day, but it's worth it. The views are amazing, the scenery is beautiful, we even came across a herd of wild horses few times. We were a little concerned about the wild bears. Of all Europe, Romania has the most of them, but luckily we didn't run into them or them into us.

What was the most challenging climb?

Physically, it was probably the Carpathians. We walked 70 kilometres in a week. The worst part was the beginning, the first ten kilometres were always uphill. After that, it changed. And the ferratas in Austria were very demanding mentally. Still, I reckon I'll do a few of them again this year. I've already bought a new climbing saddle.

Where else would you like to go sometime?

Japan. I like their culture. I had an offer in the past to go to Japan to assemble photovoltaics, but I didn't take it. Still, I'd like to go there sometime. Their culture and history fascinate me. I would like to visit Tokyo and do some nature hikes.

How do you balance work, hobbies, and family?

You have to plan, but it's manageable. At Temelín, the advantage is that the work is readable. Of course, there are periods, especially during shutdowns, that are more demanding. But it can be managed. My son is now at age where he is enjoying football and there is nothing better than going out to play with him and then maybe go for an ice cream. I'm really enjoying it now.

Author: Marek Sviták, spokesperson of Temelín NPP (ČEZ)

Source: Jihočeské týdeníky, original here
Photo source: author's archive