Today, when the director of a power plant has a problem, for example with the reactor, he does not call the Russian designer, but calls us to Plzeň

21. 12. 2020

Zdroj: All for Power, Petr Svoboda

“Building new units in Dukovany is in the interest of all of us. In terms of Czech industry, the most important question is not who will be the general contractor, the crucial issue is to choose any contractor at all” says František Krček, General Director of ŠKODA JS. “Ninety percent of people will think that ŠKODA JS equals VVER-type units, but eighteen years have passed since the launch of Temelín, during which we have been in the black. Now we also supply for western power plants, for example, we produce the reactor internals for the French EPR project."

Let´s talk about the planned completion of the Dukovany NPP. In July, the government signed an agreement with ČEZ. As one of the captains of the Czech nuclear industry, did you feel relieved? 

I felt relieved mainly as a citizen of this country. I have been working in nuclear energy all my life and I believe that, if we take our commitments to reduce CO2 emissions seriously, the core is the only possible way. Is it still realistic to build more dams? I can't imagine it very well. And I don´t mean it only in terms of the opposition of environmental NGOs. In our country, the potential of wind and solar power plants is quite limited. When I studied the core in the 1990s, we were not taught that it was the most economical, but also the most ecological variant. If we want to be self-sufficient in energy and at the same time meet climate goals, we cannot do without the core.

Aren't you skeptical about the latest statements of the Prime Minister, secret services and information from the Office for the Protection of Competition?

I understand that these are considerations about postponing the decision, not stopping the project. Of course, both the state and the investor want to have enough time and information to make important decisions. No one questioned the need and feasibility of the construction of the fifth unit at Dukovany. This is important not only for us who work in the nuclear field, but for the whole Czech Republic. On our behalf, I can say that the work is going on regardless of the Prime Minister's statement, Mr. Daniel Beneš, ČEZ CEO, confirmed my opinion in his speech on the Czech Television. And if anyone has doubts whether it is within the power of Czech industry, including ŠKODA JS, to play an important and dignified role in this project, I will be happy to invite him to Plzeň, to show him around our production facilities and acquaint him with the projects we have implemented since the launch of Temelín.

And will it be a renaissance of the entire Czech nuclear industry? Because it is not actually a completion, but a replacement for part of Dukovany.

Right, the word “completion” is not accurate. If you build a housing estate and decades later start building more houses on the next field, you will not call it a completion either. We will build a new power plant, it is an erection of a new unit. But this is just the beginning of a journey which I believe cannot end with just this one unit. Just calculate the energy balance if the large coal power plants are closed and the current units in Dukovany reach the end of their service life. Then it is obvious that one large unit will not be enough. We have been playing for the expansion of the entire industry for decades.

František Krček


How many units do you think we will need?

This is determined by the limited possibilities of individual localities. Cooling by the Jihlava River enables the construction of two new 1200 MW units in Dukovany. That's the way it is. Then, of course, there is the potential of Temelín, which was previously dimensioned at 4000 MW which, in my opinion, is the minimum. Other localities are less realistic so far, although in Blahutovice, for example, the local people are certainly not happy about the forty-year building closure.

The government, or ČEZ respectively, declare that the contractor will be selected by 2024. However, no tender has been announced yet. You are one of the Czech industrial companies in this field, what form of tender do you prefer?

When we talked in spring, we were interested in the tender being announced in packages - nuclear island, turbine island, civil part, electrical part, instrumentation and control system. The reasons were obvious - Czech companies would be able to manage a large part themselves. However, the government and the investor have decided that the project will be demanded as a whole. We fully respect the decision and we must deal with this supplier model as well.

Regarding primary circuit suppliers, which of those interested in the completion is the most advantageous for you?

I do not see a fundamental difference between them.


Yes. Ninety percent of people will think that ŠKODA JS equals VVER-type units, because the common history is huge, both in terms of production of reactor sets and in terms of participation in construction and commissioning projects in Europe. But eighteen years have passed since the launch of Temelín, during which, among other things, we have still been in the black in terms of economic results. Now we also supply for western power plants, for example, we produce reactor internals for the French EPR project. So there is no supplier preference on our part, nor are we afraid that we will not find common ground with any of them. We can implement projects according to both Western and Eastern standards. In addition, for the French or Americans it is advantageous to buy equipment or services locally if they get a good offer.

And do you have an agreement with all the bidders who are interested in completion of Dukovany?

We are in various stages of negotiations and it is now too early to predict how they will turn out, whether any agreements will be concluded or not.

Mochovce NPP, completion of Units 3 and 4


If the construction begins, what will it mean secondarily for the Czech economy?

Now let´s assume that we are really talking about restarting the field, and not just about a one-off project. When you look at the requirements for quality in individual fields in the world, at the top is the space industry, the second is the aviation industry and the nuclear industry is the third. Yes, it is a top field and this would be its return to the Czech Republic with all the secondary effects that it entails, starting with education and ending with long-term highly qualified work for many people and companies. I believe that the field will get some perspective. Of course, not everyone who studies the field and will subsequently be active in the construction for five, seven, eight years, will stay in the field forever. But here we will have a huge technical potential of people who have studied a difficult field, have gone through a very demanding project which has enriched them and increased their professional level. So this is the first overall positive impact on society.

And what about other effects?

I found out from my colleagues that in the Czech Republic we cooperate with a total of 264 companies – only on nuclear projects. Not for all of them it is a core business, but there are hundreds of companies that operate in the field. Of course, their capacity level is determined by the possibilities on the market. When there is a renaissance of the field, these companies will also go up with their capacities. It's been a month and a half since I heard the Poles saying on television that they wanted to build six units. And they already know that they want to build it with the Americans. And the Americans will also certainly look for local supplies. This is a great perspective for the entire Czech nuclear industry.
And one more important thing. It is in the investor's interest that the power plant builder is obliged to transfer part of the service know-how to Czech companies. We are talking about tens of billions of crowns in investments and maintenance, which the operator will have to spend during the operation of the nuclear power plant, because with the launch of the unit the work is certainly not over. After sixty years no power plant will look like it did after completion. There is simply a market here and it is in the strategic interest of both the state and ČEZ for the Czech industry to have the greatest possible influence in the subsequent operation, for example due to the availability of service capacities in case of border closure. Which is, of course, our interest as well.
The currently operated Czech power plants have a huge advantage in the availability of service and know-how in the Czech Republic because we have manufactured, installed and commissioned most of the equipment in Dukovany and Temelín. Today, when the director of a power plant has a problem, for example with the reactor, he does not call the Russian designer, but calls us to Plzeň.

Let´s mention fundamental objections to the completion. Ten years ago, there were a number of companies that worked in the core. Many of them, even very important ones, went bankrupt. Isn't there a real fear that companies will simply burn down on the completion?

These firms mostly ended up because there were no market opportunities and they were not able to survive economically.

But they did have the technical know-how.

Exactly. Those companies didn't end up because they had not known the craft. Of course, each of them had a different destiny, but the reasons were mostly the lack of projects, that´s why they were not able to survive on the market. However, if there is a long-term perspective, many of those who have survived, and are now oriented in other fields, would certainly get back in the game.

The second objection is finance. No project met the parameters in which it started.

We can´t really say that money doesn´t matter. But the question is, why in certain parts of the world people are able to finish similar projects in the agreed deadlines and prices and in other parts of the world they are not. Perhaps it´s because during long-term projects, such as construction of a nuclear power plant, we are able to change the rules seven times eight times. These changes are often made with good intentions, but there is a proverb - the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So as you go, the rules change and those changes can have a negative impact on deadlines, and therefore on the budget. I think that Europe, unfortunately, has a great talent for complicating things - whether in automotive, power or other fields.

You're 48 years old, if I'm not mistaken. The new units should be completed in 2036, if things go well. Do you believe you will be there at the commissioning?

If the young generation let me in there :-) With my colleagues and friends, with whom we were lucky that we could participate in the commissioning of Temelín, we say that it would be a beautiful conclusion of our professional career.

EPR reactor shaft for the Olkiluoto NPP, Finland


Let's go back abroad. We have already mentioned Poland, the core is also being talked about in the Netherlands and other countries. Are we experiencing a nuclear renaissance in Europe?

I with it were true.

Don´t you feel it that way?

When we say Poland, Belgium, Holland, Italy and more, I will say yes, there is a renaissance. The Poles, and I read it yesterday, said it very simply: "If you want us to stop burning coal, then we have no choice but to build nuclear units massively." And there really is no other way when you think about it without emotion. In addition, the effort to electrify passenger transport will also bring increased consumption compared to previous predictions. I would like to believe that the renaissance is coming and that it is not just hints in media.

Does the Polish scenario of construction on a green field seem real to you?

Today, there are more countries where they are building on a green field. We also started on a green field once. Figuratively speaking, they want to show a plot of land to a contractor, and say, "I want a power plant to stand here in 15 years," and I see no reason why they could not succeed. The Poles must build on what they have and what they can do. Let's look at Hungary, where the Paks nuclear power plant began to be built in the 1970s. It was exactly the same situation. With all respect, Hungary was not one of the industrial powers, had no experience, and today they operate four units without problems and will build more. That is why I have no reason to believe that the Poles cannot do as well as Hungarians.
But we are in a different position. Czech Republic is, in a good sense, a nuclear power. It would be humiliating for us to tell anyone, "Build us a power plant and take care of it." I am absolutely convinced that we can do more than that.

Let's get to the current business. Can you describe the major foreign projects you have been working on this year and what you have contracted for next year, if the pandemic allows?

Mochovce is certainly the key project. I would recommend everyone to walk around the third unit - it is simply a new power plant ready to start. At the primary circuit, we have applied for the permit for fuel loading, and we are debugging and completing unfinished work which is normal in every such project. Sometimes, when I exaggerate, I tell my colleagues that the staff at Mochovce are fighting for the completion of Dukovany, and perhaps not only for the Dukovany, but for nuclear energy in Europe in general. So this is the biggest and most important project we are implementing at present. Furthermore, we have a lot of projects in Ukraine, where we do a polar crane reconstruction and system installations within the post-Fukushima measures. It is a so-called Venting system, which we implement in several units, it is used for controlled pressure reduction in the containment. We also manufacture reactor control rod drives and we have other projects. At the Paks NPP, we do the instrumentation and control system reconstruction – during operation. You can imagine it as a process similar to gradually changing a patient's brain during his lifetime. We are also active in Armenia. Exports make about 70 percent of our turnover.


So at Mochovce, the Unit 3 is almost completed, isn´t it?

The work from our part is finished.

Unit 4 should be finished in two or three years?

According to the schedule, it should be in 18 months.

What will you do with the teams of your people when Mochovce is over? When do you need the Dukovany completion to start?

It is clear that before the completion begins, we must look elsewhere. Therefore, since mid-September, we have been negotiating intensively with Energoatom, the operator of Ukrainian nuclear power units, on the completion of the Khmelnytskyi power plant - specifically the third and fourth units. It is a project that has been revived twice, most recently in 2015. Now it seems that the Ukrainians are serious about it, and the Ukrainian president is giving a personal priority to the project.

What stage of negotiations are you in?

In the stage of very intensive preparations. We have a working group with the Ukrainian side, we go there often and talk about how we can get involved, because they are really interested in us to participate. Simply said, the Khmelnytskyi power plant is a copy of Temelín and the Ukrainians, of course, know that ŠKODA JS has vast experience with the VVER 1000 project. And not only with construction, because that was quite long time ago, but with the actual operation and maintenance - for the last twelve years we have been the general contractor for the maintenance of the nuclear island in Temelín. Therefore, we have an overview of everything that goes on in Temelín. So we have a perfect knowledge of the current state of technology.
And our experience from Mochovce is also interesting for Ukrainians. We came to a power plant, which everyone had buried long ago and said that it was not possible to finish it. Well, obviously, it is possible.

Would you have a similar supplier position as in Mochovce?

Ukrainians are good economists. Why would they buy something they can do themselves. Little is known about it, but a lot of devices, even here in the Czech units, with signs "made in the USSR" were actually made in Ukraine. So Ukrainians are primarily interested in something they are not experienced in. At the moment we are talking about the supply of primary circuit components. The current stage of the project is that a large part of the equipment was delivered in the past. It has been stored somehow, so it is necessary to assess its condition, whether it is possible to safely install and operate it. When this audit is completed, which should be in spring 2021, we will have a list of requirements for the supply of equipment. We really have the ambition to cover supplies of primary circuit equipment across other companies, not only within the Czech Republic.
If it turns out well, the work at the Khmelnytskyi NPP will fill the time gap between Mochovce and Dukovany. And not only in terms of business, but also due to fact that we will be able to keep the staff that we have today in Mochovce, which is about 250 highly skilled people. Loosing them would be a capital sin.

What will the funding look like?
This is, of course, one of the first things we ask, but also the Czech Export Bank, which will probably be involved in this project. As far as I know, the Ukrainians have prepared several scenarios on how to finance the completion.

How did the autumn wave of the epidemic affect the company?

We have not stopped production, we are fulfilling all our obligations. Where it is possible, people work from home. But when it comes to working on power plants, it's obviously more complicated. Especially abroad, because each country has different quarantine conditions. It is a paradox, but we had a large number of infected employees when workers who went to Mochovce had to be tested and found that they were positive. The epidemic also complicates our work during the shutdowns of Dukovany. Of course, we do everything we can (so far successfully) to ensure that this does not have a negative impact on shutdown schedules.

Zdroj: All for Power, Petr Svoboda