North Korea increasing coal production – seeking to ease power shortages and boost exports

Pictured Above: Pongchon Coal Mine (Google Earth)

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-01-18
1/28/2011

The DPRK Workers’ Party’s newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, recently featured a front-page editorial urging the North Korean people to increase coal production. On January 26, the KCNA reiterated the call, reporting that the newspaper editorial highlighted fertilizer, cotton, electricity, and steel as products suffering from a lack of coal, and that “coal production must be quickly increased in the Jik-dong Youth Mine, the Chongsong Youth Mine, the Ryongdeung Mine, the Jaenam Mine, Bongchon Mine [Pongchon Mine] and other mines with good conditions and large deposits.”

The editorial also emphasized that “priority must be placed on the equipment and materials necessary for coal production,” and, “the Cabinet, national planning committee, government ministries and central organizations need to draft plans for guaranteeing equipment and materials and must unconditionally and strongly push to provide,” ensuring that the mines have everything they need. It also called on all people of North Korea to assist in mining endeavors and to support the miners, adding that those responsible for providing safety equipment for the mines and miners step up efforts to ensure that all necessary safety gear is available.

In the recent New Year’s Joint Editorial, coal, power, steel and railways were named as the four ‘vanguard industries’ of the people’s economy. Of the four, coal took the top spot, and all of North Korea’s other media outlets followed up the editorial with articles focusing on the coal industry. On January 15, Voice of America radio quoted some recent Chinese customs statistics, revealing that “North Korea exported almost 41 million tons of coal to China between January and November of last year, surpassing the 36 million tons exported [to China] in 2009.” It was notable that only 15.1 tons were exported between January and August, but that 25.5 tons were sent across the border between August and November.

North Korea’s coal exports to China earned it 340 million USD last year, making the coal industry a favorite of Pyongyang’s economic and political elites. Increasing coal production is boosting output from some of the North’s electrical power plants, while exports to China provide much-needed foreign capital. However, even in Pyongyang, where the electrical supply is relatively good, many houses lack heating and experience long black-outs. Open North Korea Radio, a shortwave radio station based in the South, reported on January 24, “As electrical conditions in Pyongyang worsen, now no heating is available.” Farming villages can find nearby timber to use as firewood, but because prices are so high in Pyongyang, even heating has become difficult. Some in the city even wish for rural lifestyles, just for the access to food and heat.

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