The love of history and fishing is all you need to take up a new opportunity

* Mark Rencken, a keen fisherman and a project manager at the Kusile Power station in Mpumalanga shared his impressions from the competition

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Topic: Opinion

The love of history and fishing is all you need to take up a new opportunity

On the 8th of September, three fishermen from South Africa took part in the second International Fishing Tournament, held by Rosatom  in the atomic city Sosnovy Bor, at the Gulf of Finland.

One of them was Mark Rencken, a keen fisherman and a project manager at the Kusile Power station in Mpumalanga, who shared his impressions from the competition, his view of the Russian north and its traditions and the experience of visiting the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.

  • On the 8th of September there was the Second International Fishing Tournament in Sosnovy Bor, at the Gulf of Finland, in Russia, which you took part in as a member of the South African team. What is your story of becoming a participant?

I have a number of books at home on Russian history, I have read about the Bolshevik revolution, the Tsars, the Crimean War, the Battle of Balaclava, Charge of the Light Brigade, Lenin, Stalin, the Second World War. I’ve read a lot, but the problem with the books you read is that it’s written from the Western perspective. Unfortunately, I cannot get the Russian perspective of things as I cannot read Russian, also I can only read and access only the things available to us in my country. I was always very passionate about history, and recently we had many series on TV on Catherine the Second and Peter the Great. Seeing the canals and tunnels done by Peter the Great, it was a fascinating thing. I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this, for me it was once in a lifetime.

I am also a very keen fisherman. When I was 6 years old, I pulled out my first fish and I love it ever since. I fish every weekend. We catch all the different types in South Africa: for example, tigerfish, which is a very special fish, native to the African waters, I have a love of fishing and a love of history and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. When Rosatom contacted me to invite on this fishing trip I was excited and keen.  

  • Was fishing in Russia any different than in South Africa?

It was a brand-new place for us and we didn’t know what to expect. Unfortunately for us the large fish wasn’t there, we only caught small fishes. The guide whose boat we were on just mentioned there is no large fish. As an experienced fisherman, I can say weather conditions play a crucial part. The heat and temperature of the water, increased or decreased atmospheric pressure, cold fronts, whether there is plant growth in the water or whether there are algae - it all plays a part in fishing. It is a very complicated process to those, who had not done it before. My partner that I went with to Russia is my fishing partner back in South Africa and we do competition fishing together back home. We take part in different tournaments, the best ones in SA. You go to 7 or 8 dams and you get points for kilograms of fish, like in soccer. Then you get your point position. You prepare yourself for a tournament well. I try to find where the fish is, the depth of the fish, weather conditions, the clarity of the water, whether the fish can see you, whether you can see the fish, and what size of hooks you use. Different artificial baits. It is a lot of work. And we know all about it. But when you go to a brand new place of water, like we did - we had no idea what to expect. We have never caught these species before. So, we improvised and utilized the boat guides knowledge.

  • What is your impression of this trip? As I understand you had a big tour around, was there anything that fascinated or surprised you?

Yes, we looked around. We were in Sosnovy Bor and did the fishing. Then we had about two and a half days in Saint Petersburg. We were very kindly taken to the Church of Kronstadt, the Winter Palace, through the Peterhof. It was a privilege to be shown the various places in Saint Petersburg and to travel around the surroundings. The wonder and splendor of the Tsars were on a monumental scale, such an immense power, which is displayed in all castle walls much like it is in Europe. The English and French kings were no different, at that time all monarchs were absolute. Russia was no exception.

At the award ceremony, we had ladies and gentlemen in traditional Russian clothing singing traditional Russian songs. That was quite special. We were treated very kindly. It was first class accommodation, first class food, and transport. We were all very grateful to be given such an opportunity.

  • What do you think of Sosnovy Bor as a city?

Sosnovy Bor is a beautiful city. What strikes me most is the wide streets, the cleanliness. Believe it or not people actually walk on the pedestrian crossing! Which is amazing. In Russia, everyone waits for the little pedestrian sign to turn green. It was a surprise to us to see the highest discipline. I understand it is the city created for the power station.

  • I was mentioned your profession is connected with concrete pouring at the power plants. Can you share your view on Leningrad NPP?

I am a project manager and a qualified civil engineering technician. I am a leader of construction sites: for example, we are building the Kusile Power station, it’s a coal-fired thermal station. We have constructed it over the last 13 years and poured about 750,000 m3 of concrete into the ground over this period.

I was very keen to see a nuclear power plant. Although South Africa has a nuclear plant, I have never personally been on one. As soon as I got the request, I googled Rosatom. I looked for as many references as possible.

The power plant was neat and structured. I have been working for the last 11 years on the construction of a thermal powerplant and it generates 4500 MW. Leningrad NPP has 4 nuclear reactors which I understand generate 4380 MW. The South African Kusile plant has 6 coal fired units. It is interesting to see how you water cools the reactors. We have a system that cools the water in the power plant in South Africa that uses the system where you recycle the water and don’t lose it to evaporation. We have scarce water resources so we’ve learnt to recycle our water on the last four coal fired power stations built in South Africa. The cooling towers that are at the Leningrad are much like the older power stations at home. So, it was interesting to see them. When we went to the reactor platform, I asked the gentleman how many cubic meters went into the top table that the reactor is set on. And he said about 2000 m3 of concrete. In South Africa, the steam driven turbine tables we have, come from France, from Alstom, which was taken over by General Electric. They are French turbines. The concrete that supports the turbines is about 1400 m3. This was quite interesting for me to see, to look at the different types of materials that you use in the construction of your plant. The plant is really functional. We tend to overelaborate our buildings in South Africa for some reason and this makes no sense to me. But I looked at the plant and enjoyed the presentation that the director gave to us, it was very interesting.

  • What would you call the top findings of the trip?

Firstly, nuclear power is the most complicated, yet it can be the safest form of power creation that the world has ever known. It is probably the cleanest, the safest provided if treated right. In order to spread nuclear power around the world countries, we need to put standards on education. So, one would look at it as probably the best form of energy available to mankind, but there are a lot of conditions attached to it. You have got to have the training, the education of the staff, dedicated personnel, freedom of authority to run a plant like a nuclear power facility. If it is run and managed properly, nuclear power is the answer to mankind’s energy needs.

We cannot continue with fossil fuels, it is obsolete. We are destroying our planet. All the change to solar and wind is nice. But when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow you have a disaster everywhere. In South Africa and Russia and probably everywhere in the world, your power consumption is the most in the morning and evenings: before and after work. Of course, the sun doesn’t shine in the evening, so solar energy is quite a problem now. Moreover, it can be converted to power, but as I understand it, it is difficult to store it in bulk for long periods of time.

Wind power is much the same. Perhaps, one day we will have some super batteries to make up for the shortcomings of renewables but we do not have then now. That is why nuclear is the way to go. However, it comes with strict conditions. If countries have this education among the nation, then it has a tremendous potential. And it concerns all countries, not just Russia, it’s an international direction.

The second thing is I have always read that Russian people are hardworking, dedicated people. I was surprised at the high standard of living that I saw in Saint Petersburg.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Rosatom.

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