North Korea looks to recycle toxic waste

UPDATE 3 (2013-3-15): Michael Rank offers more information on the DPRK – Taiwan nuclear waste deal:

North Korean-Taiwan nuclear waste deal thwarted over export permit
By Michael Rank

A Taiwanese report says one reason the North Korean nuclear waste deal fell through was that Taipower didn’t obtain an export permit for the waste from the Taiwanese Atomic Energy Council (AEC).

It also says that Taipower claims no final deal was ever signed, so there is no question of the agreement being violated. It quotes Taipower official Huang Tien-huang as saying the North Koreans blocked them from viewing the processing site at Phyongsan (Pyeongsan, 평산, 平山), while the AEC also had procedural problems with the North Koreans, leading it to refuse an export permit.

North Korea has hired a (presumably Taiwanese) lawyer, Tsai Hui-ling, to plead its case, and is claiming NT$300 million (US$10 million) compensation. Tsai can be seen on this English-language video clip.

A PRC report quoting Taiwanese reports says the first stage of the deal worth US$75.66 million envisaged shipping 60,000 barrels of nuclear waste, and a further 14,000 barrels in the second stage, with a total value of $150 million and that the North Koreans were after the deal as a source of foreign exchange at the height of the famine. There have been ten rounds of negotiations to try to resolve the dispute, the report says, adding that Taiwan decided in 1999 that it would process the waste domestically.

As I reported in 2008, North Korea signed a deal with a Chinese company to recycle industrial waste that is so polluted that other countries have refused to handle it.

A slightly fuller Chinese report than the one I cited earlier names the Chinese company involved as Dalian-based Huatai Recycling Resources Co Ltd and says it has close links with the North Korean National Defence Commission, foreign ministry, environment ministry and foreign trade ministry.

It also says the North Koreans have four large recycling sites at Sinuiju and Nampo, two for lead batteries and two for electronic goods, and that they are able to recycle a wide array of equipment, from plastics to refrigerators as well as computers, phones and scanners, including goods that are banned for recycling in China.

It is not clear if the Chinese-North Korean deal was actually implemented.

UPDATE 2 (2013-3-2): The DPRK intends to sue Taiwan for breach of contract in its failure to begin the Taiwan – DPRK waste management project. According to the China Post (Taiwan):

North Korea is poised to sue Taiwan Power Co. (台電) for damages of NT$300 million, over an alleged breach of a contract signed more than 16 years ago, according to lawyers working on Pyongyang’s behalf.
Litigation will begin March 4, North Korea’s legal counsel said.

In 1996, Taipower allegedly committed to a contract with North Korea in which nuclear waste from Taiwan would be shipped and stored in the isolated communist nation, according to reports.

However, the plans were halted due to North Korea’s then-inadequate waste storage facilities and the sudden eruption of international uproar over the scheme, with Taiwan paying US$8.72 million to preserve a five-year option period in 1998, according to the lawyers, who added that North Korea continued to invest in its waste storage facilities under the assumption that the deal would be completed.

After over 10 rounds of negotiation over the past 15 years, North Korea is now accusing Taipower of complacency and negligence, citing a lack of communication and effort to fulfill the agreed-upon obligations.

In light of North Korea’s unexpected litigation, Taipower has said that such a dated case needs a comprehensive internal review before a response can be formulated.

The lawsuit marks a surprising development in the ongoing row over the proposed plan to construct a fourth nuclear power plant in Taiwan, as the ruling and opposition parties wrestle over the terms of the proposed referendum, which would decide the fate of the plant.

UPDATE 1 (2009-1-8): A Taiwanese official is under investigation for activities related to the Taiwan – DPRK waste management deal. According to the AFP (via Singapore’s Straits Times):

The Apple Daily reported on Thursday that prosecutors had begun investigating claims that Chen might have pocketed 300 million Taiwan dollars of financial aid in 2004 and 2005 in exchange for North Korea handling the island’s nuclear wastes.

The daily, which did not name its sources, alleged the cash would be given to a high-ranking North Korean official through a contact who promised to help Taipei set up a ‘direct communication channel’ with Mr Kim Jong-Il’s regime.

However, Taiwan did not establish any form of contact with North Korea nor send its nuclear waste to the communist state after the foreign ministry paid the money, the report said.

Self-ruled Taiwan is formally recognised by only 23 countries and does not have diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Read the full story here:
Funds were for N.Korea
AFP via Straits Times

ORIGINAL POST (2008-6-30): According to Michael Rank in the Telegraph:

North Korea is planning to recycle waste that is so polluted other countries refuse to handle it.

Through a Chinese-language website (link here) the country is seeking supplies of plastic and electronic waste which “can be processed in [a North Korean port] but which other countries and territories are restricted from dealing in”, reflecting the country’s dire economic plight and its scant regard for international norms.

Isolated and desperately poor, North Korea is a beginner so far as toxic waste is concerned, although in 1996 it signed a deal with Taiwan to dispose of its nuclear waste from atomic power plants.

South Korea reacted furiously to the deal and Taiwan was eventually forced to back down and cancel the agreement.

North Korea also offered to recycle the North Sea Brent Spar oil storage platform, which Royal Dutch Shell had proposed dumping in the deep Atlantic in 1995.

This caused an environmental furore, with Greenpeace claiming that the structure was full of oil and burying it at sea would result in serious pollution.

An enterprising young North Korean official in London unexpectedly offered to come to the rescue, suggesting that his country could dispose of the structure, saving Shell and the British government from further embarrassment.

The offer was turned down as Shell didn’t want to be seen turning to a regime as dubious as North Korea, but Greenpeace’s own reputation took a serious knock when it was forced to admit that it had enormously over-estimated the amount of oil remaining in Brent Spar’s storage tanks.

North Korea’s waste recycling plans are part of a much bigger, £5 million ($10 million) project to enlarge a port on its west coast and develop it into an export base including a duty-free zone.

“There are no limits, any business taking advantage of [North] Korea’s low labour costs for intensive processing is welcome,” the website states.

Although the port is not named, it is almost certainly Nampo, which is close to the capital and is the largest harbour on North Korea’s west coast. The development covers 30,000 square metres (320,000 square feet) and is “expandable”.

The port currently accepts vessels of up to 10,000 tonnes but the plan is to increase this to 50,000 tonnes.

The project is pitched at Chinese companies, and interested parties are asked to contact a firm in the Chinese city of Dandong on the North Korean border.

A deal with China would help to counterbalance a recent agreement with state-owned Russian Railways to build a £50 million ($100million) container terminal on North Korea’s east coast as part of a £1.5 billion ($3 billion) plan to create a rail corridor linking South Korea with Europe via North Korea and Russia.

Russian Railways wants to turn the port of Rajin into a hub capable of handling 320,000 containers a year for shipment from South Korea to Europe.

Russia and China have fought bitterly over rights to refurbish Rajin. A few years ago China appeared to have won out when a 50-year deal was announced with the Chinese border city of Hunchun, but this came to nought and Russia was the ultimate winner in the battle to revitalise the north-eastern port and ultimately link it with Europe.

The original source, a Chinese language website, is here.

To read the full story click here:
North Korea in bid to recycle toxic waste
Michael Rank


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