Overview Of The Dprk Energy Crisis

The DPRK relies heavily on indigenous sources of power, predominantly coal and hydropower, and has no known reserves of oil or natural gas. Since the end of the Cold War, chronic shortages have developed for all forms of modern energy supply, with petroleum products, coal, and electricity all reduced by more than 50 percent after 1990. These shortages have affected all sectors of the economy, especially transportation, industry, and agriculture. The North Korean energy crisis results from the loss of subsidized Soviet oil imports, failure to maintain and modernize energy infrastructure, the impacts of natural disasters, and inefficiency in energy production and end use.1

During the Cold War, the DPRK received heavily subsidized oil supplies from the Soviet Union. In 1990, crude oil imports amounting to about 2.5 million tonnes were delivered from the USSR, the People's Republic of China (PRC), and Iran, and a further 600,000 tonnes of refined petroleum products such as diesel and gasoline from China. Crude oil delivered by tanker was refined at Raijin, and at the terminus of a pipeline from China.2 With the collapse of the USSR in 1990, subsidized oil supplies to the DPRK and other former client states, such as Cuba, were curtailed. The DPRK could not pay world market prices for oil, and imports from Russia and the Middle East soon fell by 90 percent. China became the main supplier of oil to the DPRK, oil imports in 1996 being around 40 percent of their 1990 level (around 1.1 million tonnes).3 Imported oil, limited to non-substitutable uses such as motor gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, accounted for about 6 percent of primary energy consumption.4

In the same period, coal supply fell 50 percent from around 34 million tonnes in 1990 to around 17 million tonnes in 1996. Electricity supply fell 52 percent from around 46 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 1990 to around 24 billion kWh in 1996. Estimated total consumption of commercial energy in the DPRK fell by about 51 percent. Biomass use rose about 8 percent from around 22.3 million tonnes to around 24 million tonnes. The capacity of the main forms of transportation for goods in the DPRK, electric and diesel trains, and diesel trucks probably fell to 40 percent of its 1990 value by 1996. Iron and steel production shrank to 36 percent of 1990 levels by 1996.5

In 1997, coal accounted for more than 80 percent of primary energy consumption and hydropower more than 10 percent, with hydroelectric power plants generating about 65 percent of North Korea's electricity, and coal-fired thermal plants about 35 percent.6

To summarize, the shortage of one relatively small but key element in the DPRK energy mix, imported oil, appears to have set off systemic shockwaves throughout the DPRK economy, causing a more than 50 percent drop in all economic activity, including basic food production (see Table 21.1). What may well have occurred (although there is little direct evidence to back this up) is that much of the imported oil was being used to operate coal mines. When that oil ceased to be imported, the operation of coal mines became immediately problematical, causing the production of coal to plummet to half the 1990 level.

Table 21.1 DPRK energy situation 1990 and 1996

Units

1990

1996

1990

1996

1996/

% total

% total

(PJ)

(PJ)

1990 %

1990

1996

Crude oil million tonnes

2.5

1.1

114.3

50.3

44.0

9.9

8.8

Refined products million tonnes

0.6

0?

27.1

0.0

0.0

2.4

0.0

Coal million tonnes

34.0

17.0

928.2 464.1

50.0

80.8

81.3

Hydroelectricity billion kWh

22.0

15.6

79.2

56.2

70.9

6.9

9.8

TOTAL

1 148.8

570.5

49.7

100.0

100.0

Electricity (total) billion kWh

46.0

24.0

165.6

86.4

52.2

Notes: "Electricity (total)" here includes electricity generated from coal, and thus is shown for reference and not included in the energy total.

Generation of hydroelectricity in 1996 is calculated as being 65 percent of the total of generated electricity.

Conversion rates used to convert between differing energy units (www2.dti.gov.uk/epa/annexa.pdf) were:

Electricity: 1 kWh = 0.0036 GJ

Crude oil: 1,181 liters/tonne

Crude oil: 45.7 GJ/tonne

Crude oil: 1 barrel = 159 liters

Crude oil: 1 barrel: 0.1346 tonnes = 6.15 GJ

Notes: "Electricity (total)" here includes electricity generated from coal, and thus is shown for reference and not included in the energy total.

Generation of hydroelectricity in 1996 is calculated as being 65 percent of the total of generated electricity.

Conversion rates used to convert between differing energy units (www2.dti.gov.uk/epa/annexa.pdf) were:

Electricity: 1 kWh = 0.0036 GJ

Crude oil: 1,181 liters/tonne

Crude oil: 45.7 GJ/tonne

Crude oil: 1 barrel = 159 liters

Crude oil: 1 barrel: 0.1346 tonnes = 6.15 GJ

Sources: James H. Williams, David von Hippel, and Peter Hayes, "Fuel and Famine: Rural Energy Crisis in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, IGCC Policy Papers, Paper No. 46, March 2000, http://repositories.cdlib.org/igcc/PP/ pp46.

Generation of hydroelectricity in 1990 is estimated from http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/ nkorea.html.

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