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Ziółkowski: Office of Technical Inspection supports the Baltic Pipe and Poland’s energy independence (INTERVIEW)


The Office of Technical Inspection tests technical equipment in Poland’s largest power and thermal plants, and in the future it will also handle nuclear and wind power plants. One of the most recent examples of what we do is our engagement in the Baltic Pipe project, which is crucial for Poland’s energy independence. We have been supporting this investment since the beginning, says Andrzej Ziółkowski, President of the Office of Technical Inspection (UDT), in an interview with What is the role of technical supervision, which is carried out in Poland by the Office of Technical Inspection, of which you are the President?

Andrzej Ziółkowski: Technical supervision has become necessary throughout the civilized world after James Watt introduced the steam engine in the 18th century. From that moment on modern energy and economic development began. Due to the fact that these engines blew up, supervision had to be introduced to verify the correctness of their technical structure and construction. It is agreed that on the Polish territory, technical supervision emerged in 1911, when Polish industry makers received a permit for a statute that regulated the activities of the Warsaw Society for Supervision over Steam Engines. Today, technical supervision institutions create a global network TIC. The Polish Office of Technical Inspection has been its member since it was established back in 2018. As the President of the Office, I am a board member at the TIC Council.

What specifically does the Office of Technical Inspection do?

We take care of the safety of industrial installations and ensure compliance with standards. In total, the Office has nearly 1.5 million devices under supervision and performs about one million tests per year. The Office of Technical Inspection is a state legal entity operating in the field of safety of technical equipment on the basis of a number of legal acts, in particular the Act of 21 December 2000 on Technical Supervision. Our work has two aspects. The first concerns the safety of the operation of installations and the safety of workers. The second is about safety at a larger scale –including in industrial sectors such as petrochemicals, construction and energy. Both conventional and renewable. One could say we are part and parcel of energy.

What does it exactly look like?

UDT conducts tests of technical equipment in the largest Polish power plants and thermal power plants, and in the future it will also handle nuclear and wind power plants. One of the most recent examples of what we do is our engagement in the Baltic Pipe project, which is crucial for Poland’s energy independence. We have supported this investment since its inception. On July 11, we issued an operating permit for the last land section of the Baltic Pipe in Poland, Niechorze – Płoty, which is 41 kilometers long. The decisions we issued allow to operate the linear sections of the gas pipeline, and confirm its technical safety.

We are also working with the best research centres and energy companies on analyses related to the possibility of extending a safe lifespan of the 200+ MW power plants in a new operating schedule (regulatory mode rather than basic). It is about being able to monitor and use analytical methods to estimate in an on-line mode the nameplate capacity of critical parts of the units to move the loads and predict their lifespan. A set of good practices has also been developed in consultation with the energy industry, identifying. among others, the skills of the staff performing the service activities.

We are just on the verge of starting the construction of the first nuclear power plant…

Investments in nuclear power are essential if the climate policy is to slow down or even halt global warming. Renewable energy is unstable and requires a baseload. As an engineer, I think it’s wrong that we don’t have nuclear power yet.

The construction of a nuclear power plant, if it proceeds without major problems, takes about 10 years. This means that if we want to ensure Poland’s energy security, it is high time to start implementing this program.

How will the Office prepare for this challenge?

UDT has been involved in the nuclear energy project for a long time. First of all, we train employees. We offer studies in the field of nuclear energy, as well as foreign internships, the so-called on-the-job-training. We are familiar with the technologies used by the French, Americans and Koreans, so we are ready to cooperate with all of them. We participate in international working groups in OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency. Our strong competence is certainly our experience in the inspection of pressure equipment, which accounts for a significant proportion of technical equipment in nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructure. We are currently working on internal procedures and staff qualifications for technical supervision in future nuclear power plants. We also make sure that our technical safety culture is adapted to issues related to the nuclear industry. This way of working requires very strict observance of safety rules at every stage.

The construction of SMRs takes less time, right?

Yes. There is a fascination with small units that can effectively support the decarbonization process. They can certainly be used for large industrial complexes, which will thus become independent of the national energy system and unstable renewables. The optimal solution would be to work in parallel on the implementation of both small and large blocks. To make the national grid safe, nuclear power plants built by experienced companies are essential. The structures should be based on already known technology, proven in many countries, to ensure the highest level of safety.

The world has made quite a journey from steam engines in the 18th century to nuclear and renewable power.

And many challenges, as well as many threats emerged on the way. One of those led to one of the most tragic industrial disasters in history at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, on 3 December 1984. The number of dead and seriously injured in this disaster was enormous, in this respect it was the largest industrial disaster in the world. The tragedy happened because of money saving and the protective insulation was not tight. The prevention of such disasters is a new field of technical supervision. UDT has a Department of Innovation and Development, whose tasks include, in particular, the identification and implementation of new research and inspection methods and techniques, as well as proposing activities in new areas of the Office of Technical Inspection. Our experts are constantly analyzing global trends in diagnostic, research and measurement methods that can be used in our activities in Poland. They study the usefulness of innovative methods, the level of their complexity, the methodology of conducting research. If the results of the analyses are favorable, the methods are included in the catalog of the Office’s expert services for entrepreneurs.

As the President of the Office of Technical Inspection, how do you assess the state of the law in Poland when it comes to technology and industry?

Some of our rules could be less rigid and meticulous. I am an engineer, and as an engineer, I believe that the law should define the goal rather than describe the path to it.

Interview by Teresa Wójcik