Upgrade of N. Korea's power grid
needed for electricity aid
July 13, 2005 -Lee Joon-seung - Yonhap
SEOUL, -- South Korea's proposed electricity
aid to energy-starved North Korea is technically and
economically feasible, but requires the extensive
modernization of the communist country's power grid
system, experts said Wednesday.
Copyright(c) 2005 YonhapNews
Seoul on Tuesday offered to directly
supply 2 million kilowatts of electricity to Pyongyang
if it scraps its nuclear ambitions once and for all.
The need for electricity has been one of the main
reasons given by Pyongyang to hold onto its nuclear
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young
said he made the proposal directly to North Korean
leader Kim Jong-il during their meeting on June 17.
The North has yet to give its official position on
Related to the proposal, officials at
the country's power monopoly Korea Electric Power
Corp. (KEPCO) and the Commerce, Industry and Energy
Ministry said that at present, there are no existing
plans to supply Pyongyang with electricity, but experts
are in the process of coming up with a means.
"Giving electricity directly to North
Korea has been explored at the technical level and
there seem to be no obstacles to transferring power
other than some concerns it could cause shortages
for the Seoul metropolitan area," said Lee Jae-shik.
an energy expert at the ministry said.
Government insiders have said the matter
is not a new proposal, but has been under consideration
Technicians from KEPCO were also in general
agreement about the lack of technical obstacles. However,
they said any such moves will require wholesale upgrading
of the North's power grid, which has fallen into disrepair
since the early 1990s. They gave no details on how
dilapidated the power system is in the North.
The experts said Seoul should review
its own power generation capacity before supplying
electricity to North Korea to prevent a deterioration
in the supply of electricity here.
"Giving 2 million kilowatts of electricity
is possible although it could cause problems for South
Korea," a KEPCO insider said. He said at present the
country only had sufficient power reserves for its
own needs and could run into problems if it had to
The company said the South's electricity
reserve rate is currently at around 12 percent, down
from 17 percent last year, and that protests by environmentalists
and administrative red tape raised at the regional
level have held up construction of needed power generation
plants. The ideal electricity reserve rate is 10 percent
to 12 percent.
The technician then said that 2 million
kilowatts is roughly the same amount of electricity
that will be produced by the two new reactors currently
being built in Gori at the moment. The two power plants
are to be completed in 2010 and 2011 at a cost of
5-6 trillion won (US$4.8-$5.7 billion) each.
South Korea operates 20 commercial nuclear
reactors that produce roughly 40 percent of the country's
electricity needs. The country generated 342.1 billion
kilowatts last year and has the capacity to put out
59.96 million kilowatts of electricity at any given
Elaborating on how the electricity can
be sent to North Korea, government officials said
that the most feasible method was for Seoul to transfer
the electricity overland using high-voltage cables
to a central distribution station, possibly in Pyongyang,
for redistribution to other parts of the country,
where it would be converted at transformer substations
to meet regional electricity.
On the cost of the proposed aid, National
Security Council deputy head Lee Jong-seok said around
2.5 trillion won could be used, suggesting the money
could come from government funds earmarked for use
in the stalled light-water nuclear reactor project
in the North.
Parliamentary sources said that the Ministry
of Planning and Budget has already earmarked 2.7 trillion
won to be spent on the suspended light-water reactor
project, and that this sum could be used to supply
electricity to North Korea.
Experts here agreed that if it the plan
goes through, the impact of the electricity provision
to that country would be significant.
Nam Sung-Wook, a lecturer in North Korean
studies at Korea University, said it would be a major
boost for North Korea.
South Korean government figures showed
the North had the capacity to produce 7.77 million
kilowatts at any given time, with a total output of
19.6 billion kilowatts in 2003.
"Since the country generates far less
than its capacity, the South Korean aid can effectively
double the electricity the North will be able to use
on a daily basis," he said.
Others like Cheng Seong-chang, of the
Sejong Institute's Inter-Korean studies center, said
the power will alleviate a major source of concern
that has forced investors to keep clear of the country.
"The move can further have the effect
of integrating the North' electric grid system with
that of South Korea that would help ease economic
integration in the future," the researcher said.
Most North Korean experts in addition
claimed that the cost of rebuilding the North's dilapidated
electricity infrastructure would prove staggering,
but should be deemed as an investment for the time
when the two Koreas are unified.
On Wednesday, Unification Minister Chung
Dong-young told Yonhap News Agency that the
government would try to acquire parliamentary
consent, if necessary.
"(The government) is currently studying
procedures and regulations on the proposed direct
transmission of electricity to the North. Upon the
outcome of the study being prepared, the government
will make a judgment on the issue," Chung said.
Earlier, the main opposition Grand National
Party insisted on the need for parliamentary go-ahead
for the electricity aid, citing a constitutional clause
stipulating that the government shall acquire prior
parliamentary consent when it concludes a out-of-budget
contract that can cause a burden on the state.