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Repairing power plants, cables viable way to help N. Korea: think tank

All Headlines 10:55 August 13, 2007

By Lee Joon-seung

SEOUL, Aug. 13 (Yonhap) -- Repairing North Korea's existing power generation infrastructure is an effective way to help North Korea cope with its chronic power shortage, a South Korean state-run think tank said Monday.

The Korea Energy Economic Institute (KEEI) said refurbishing North Korea's existing infrastructure may be a more effective way to boost electric power than building new thermal generators and nuclear reactors.

The findings come as leaders of the two Koreas are scheduled to hold a summit in Pyongyang Aug. 28-30. Helping North Korea cope with its power shortages is expected to be a important agenda item in the talks.

Repairing existing thermal power plants could boost the effectiveness of North Korea's electricity-related infrastructure to 40-50 percent from its current 20-30 percent, it said. This effort, it claimed, would have the same effect as the abandoned plans of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to build two light water reactors in Rajin-Songbong. KEDO stopped building the reactors after Washington and North Korea clashed over allegations that Pyongyang violated the 1994 Geneva accord by running a clandestine uranium enrichment program to make nuclear weapons.

KEEI said that judging from South Korea's experience, it will cost 710,000 won (US$753) to repair one kilowatt worth of existing power generating facilities compared to 1.72 million won to produce the same amount of electricity by building a new thermal power plant.

"This translates into less cost for the same effect," the report said.

The findings then said that sending 2 million kilowatts of power directly to North Korea by high-voltage cable may be rejected by Pyongyang because it would make the country dependent on South Korea. Seoul made the proposal in mid 2005 in a move to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

The two Koreas are still technically at war since only an armistice was signed after the Korean War (1950-53), not a peace treaty.

It said this method could cost Seoul 1.1 trillion won in extra electricity generation and 1.7 trillion won to build the power cable infrastructures to get the electricity to North Korea.

The think tank said building new thermal coal, oil and gas generating facilities would all cost more than a trillion won.

"Because a steady supply of fuel to North Korea cannot be ensured, the effectiveness of building fossil-fuel fired thermal reactors may not be an efficient way to help North Korea's power needs," the KEEL report said.

Building a bituminous coal-fired power plant could cost 2 trillion while one using anthracite coal may reach 3 trillion. Oil and gas fired plants could cost 1.6 trillion and 1 trillion won each respectively.

The think tank stressed that because North Korea's power infrastructure needs to be overhauled completely in a gradual manner, it may be best to start off with small projects instead of large ventures that could not be managed under current circumstances.


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