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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.

   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 development project.

   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 the matter.

   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 since 2000.

   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 share.

   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 moment.

   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. 

Copyright(c) 2005 YonhapNews

Updated: 2016/06/30

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