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Energy and Power

An abundance of coal and water resources has allowed North Korea to build a well-developed electrical power network. North Korea's preeminence as an energy producer began during the Japanese occupation with the Sup'ung Hydroelectric Plant, located in the northwest; at the time the plant was the largest of its kind in Asia. North Korea supplied more than 90 percent of the electricity in the Korean Peninsula before partition.

The DPRK's energy shortages are both a symptom and cause of its economic malaise. From having one of the most developed electricity networks in Asia in 1980, with a capacity of 5.4 million kw generating 25 billion kwh annually, the DPRK now has an obsolete, poorly maintained and inefficient system operating at less than 50% capacity and falling far short of demand.

Since the 1970s, the country has increasingly turned to coal as an energy source. Compared with hydroelectrical plants, coalbased thermal plants can be built at locations near industrial and population centers at lower initial costs, require shorter construction time, and are not subject to instability arising from periods of drought.

Thermal plants tend to be less efficient and have higher operating costs. North Korea's installed generating capacity was estimated at 7.14 million kilowatts in 1990, with 60 percent-- 4.29 million kilowatts--from hydropower and the remainder from thermal sources. With output estimated at 50 billion kilowatthours (Kwh) and 55 billion Kwh, in 1984 and 1988, respectively, the Second Seven-Year Plan target of 56 billion Kwh to 60 billion Kwh was not fulfilled, nor was the 1993 target of 100 billion Kwh.

In the early 1990s, many power plants were under construction, including the T'aech'n power station, in the northwest, reportedly to be the largest hydroelectric plant in North Korea when completed. Other large-scale projects include the Kmgang-san, Hch'n, Nam-gang, Kmyagang, and Orang-ch'on plants. In addition, thermal power plants such as the East P'yongyang Power Plant and the Hamhung Power Plant were under construction in the early 1990s. Four large hydroelectric plants- -some built with Chinese aid--are situated along the Yalu River; they supply power jointly to both countries.

The Pukchang Thermoelectric station is located in Pukchang country, South Pyongan province, in the heart of North Korea's coal-producing area. The station is driven by coal, and represents one-half of North Korea's thermoelectric production capacity. Construction for this second thermoelectric station built with Soviet aid under the terms of the North Korea-USSR Mutual Delivery Pact for 1961-1965, signed on Feb. 1960, began on Oct. 1961. But initial plans for a 600,000 kW were postponed by interruption in aid from the USSR following the Sino-Soviet split, and the North Korean settled for a 300,000 kW capacity plant, completed on June, 1971. Then the plant was expanded to its original objective of 600,000 kilowatts in July, 1972. Soviet aid was resumed following the signing of the on Sept. 1970, in which the USSR promised assistance for expansion and construction for over thirty state factories and enterprises during North Korea's 6-year development period, and production capacity at Pukchang was expanded again to 1.2 million kilowatts from 1973-1975. A third expansion to add another 400,000 kilowatts to the plant began on April 1978, without outside assistance. Plant capacity was expanded to 1.6 million kilowatts after its successful completion in December 1984. The plant is driven by sixteen 100,000 kilowatt generators of the similar type, with interchangeable parts making for efficient operation and maintenance relative to other plants. On the other hand, frequent interruption in power generation due to breakdowns and accidents caused by use of lower-grade coal, in addition to insufficient supplies of coal has degraded the plant's actual capacity to about 500,000 kilowatts. Factories, enterprises, and railroads in the South Pyongan and Hwanghae provinces are the main beneficiaries of the electricity produced by the plant. With the completion of the plant, North Korea's western regions that were dependent on power plants in the east for power are now supplying the east.

The only oil-fired thermal plant is at Unggi, near the Russian border. The 200-megawatt plant receives its fuel oil from the nearby Unggi refinery, which uses crude petroleum imported from Russia.

Sunbong thermoelectric power station (alias 6.16 power station) is a North Koreas first diesel oil thermoelectric power station located in Sunbong, North Hamkyung province. Its power generating capacity is 200,000 kw (annual diesel oil consumption at 500,000 tons). Construction for the station began in 1968 with Soviet support and was completed in December of 1977, according to the terms of the North Korean-Soviet Economic and Technology Agreement signed in March, 1967. Previously utilizing diesel oil produced at Victory Chemical Works, the operation rate of this power station dropped to 30% of previous levels in the 1990's, because import of diesel oil from ex-Russia became interrupted and import of diesel oil from the Middle East rapidly diminished due to foreign currency shortages. But the operation of the power station became normalized with annual provision of 500,000-ton diesel oil could be provided by KEDO, due to continue until construction of nuclear power station is completed as agreed by the North-U.S. Agreement in Oct. 1994. Currently, Sunbong thermonelectric power station annually produces 1.7 billion kilowatt-hours, 10% of total electricity produced in the North. It is the main energy source for industrial facilities in the Northern regions of North Hamkyung province like the Victory Chemical Works and Kim Chaek steel mill.

There are no domestic oil reserves. Oil accounts for about 6% of total North Korean primary energy consumption, and is largely limited to non-substitutable uses such as motor gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Oil is imported from China and the Soviet Union by pipeline, and from Iran by sea. The quantity of oil imported to North Korea amounted to an annual average of 2.6 million tons in the mid-80s, but was suddenly reduced to 1.5 million tons due to interruption of oil import from former Soviet Union in the 90s. Because both Russia and China have insisted on hard currency payments at international prices for oil since 1991, Iran became the major oil source under a 1989 agreement to supply 40,000 barrels of oil per day. In 1997, imports of oil amounted to only 506,000 tons, or a mere 14% of the 3.5 million tons required. Under the 1994 nuclear accord, the United States assumed responsibility for providing 500,000 tons (approximately 3.3 million barrels) of heavy fuel oil annually through Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO). With the exception of the heavy fuel oil being provided under the nuclear agreement, most petroleum is imported as crude oil and processed at domestic refineries.

The refining industry in North Korea is made up of Bonghwa chemical factory complex that provides oil products to the western region (annual supply : 1.5 million tons) and the Seung-ri Chemical, that provides oil to the northern region (annually 2 million tons). Total annual refinery capacity is estimated at 3.5 to 4.5 million tons. Seungri Chemical factory in the Najin-Sunbong Area is North Korea's largest oil refinery.

To overcome its energy crisis, the North has since 1998 also pursued extensive construction of small- and mid-sized power plants and has increased coal production. Outdated power transmission facilities and a lack of funding and resources, however, have made progress very slow. The North constructed over 5,000 medium and small-scale power stations in 1998 alone to solve the problem of electric shortage due to stagnation in the operations of large-scale power stations. The North had carried out in earnest the construction of medium- and small-scale power stations, constructing this year over 700 medium and small-scale power stations.

The medium-and small-scale power stations are mainly established at valleys and rivers where construction of water reservoirs is possible. The North went so far as to set up small-scale generators (20-30kw) at waterways and succeeded in providing public institutions in districts and or ordinary homes with electricity for lighting. Through construction of medium and small-scale power stations using small-scale generating equipment taking advantage of methane gas generated from manure and corn stalks at rural sites and reclaimed land, the capacity to produce about 70,000 kw of electricity has been secured (total power generating capacity in the North is 7.39 million kw).

The construction in large numbers of medium- and small-scale power stations in the North seems to have contributed to solving the electricity shortage in certain regions by making it possible for cooperative farms and secluded places in the mountains to secure electricity by themselves. Because those medium- and small-scale power stations were competitively constructed without regard to geological conditions, they cannot properly produce electricity due to limited water flow at small waterways during the freezing season of winter or the dry seasons of spring and autumn. But electricity shortage has not yet been fully solved because operations of power stations have stagnated due to frequent equipment trouble. It is because those power stations were designed and constructed by non-specialists at each county and ri. Consequently, side effects like damage to natural scenery and destruction of the ecosystem have been caused.

According to the 1994 US-North Korea Agreed Framework, the North is to be supplied with two pressurised water reactors (PWR) in exchange for abandoning its existing research reactors and taking further steps to comply with nuclear safeguards. Until the PWR are completed, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO) has to supply 500,000 tons annually of heavy fuel oil. Under an optimistic scenario, external aid and internal transition counld enable the economy to recover almost to 1990 levels in 2000, surpassing 1990 in most sectors by 2005. Electricity demand might grow by 13% annually in 1996-2000 and 8% annually in 2000-08. Under more pessimistic conditions, in transitions are blocked and there is no substantial aid, the 1990-96 decline would continue, although after 2000 there might be a slight recovery partly due to cooperation forced by the KEDO program. Electricity demand might drop by 1.5% in 1996-2000 then grow by 4% pa.

A 13% growth rate seems high for a developing country, but is not unprecedented in Asia, and the North's electricity-using infrastructure is largely in place. The importance of the PWR to the energy sector is secondary to political impact, as the same effective capacity could be supplied less expensively by investments in upgrading and refurbishing energy infrastructures and in cost-effective technologies. The use of PWR will require substantial rehabilitation of infrastructures that may prove more useful in the long run than the nuclear reactors themselves.

Sources and Resources

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