[FOUNTAIN]How North lost control of its power

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[FOUNTAIN]How North lost control of its power

At noon on May 14, 1948, the electricity on the high-tension wires crossing the 38th parallel separating the South and the North was suddenly turned off. The event came an hour and half after the head of the North’s electric power authority, Ri Mun-hwan, notified his South Korean counterpart that the electricity would be turned off because the South hadn’t paid the bill, and that he should come to Pyeongyang if he wished to resolve the issue.
Right after independence from the imperial Japan, North Korea generated 1.52 million kilowatts of electricity, about 88.5 percent of the country’s entire production, while the South only produced 190,000 kilowatts. Before independence, 96 percent of the electricity was produced in the North, and the South generated only 4 percent. The South worked hard to increase power output, but in 1948, the South had to buy 50 to 60 percent of the electricity it needed from the North.
The electricity cutoff immediately created a stir in the South. While most households used lanterns at the time, the government banned turning on light bulbs with more than 30 watts. All three power plants, Yeongwol, Danginri and Busan, were put into full operation.
It was not enough to make up for the shortage. Factories had to shut down one after another. Manufacturers could not operate normally when they received only 20 percent of the electricity they used to get. Factories such as Dongyang Chemical, Buksam Chemical and Samcheok Cement agreed to take turns operating.
The economy of North Korea, which had once abused its power to produce energy, has declined for decades, and now the country is suffering from electricity shortages. Today, construction for the ambitious Gaeseong Industrial Complex is under way near the Demarcation Line. Because of the unstable electricity supply, an accident has already happened at the complex.
The nine South Korean manufacturers in the complex do not use the North Korean electricity and generate their own electricity from their own small electricity generators. However, the electricity supply is not sufficient, and sometimes the safety devices do not work properly.
Fortunately, we no longer have to worry. In 10 days, 15,000 kilowatts of South Korean electricity will start flow into the North.


by Ahn Sung-kyoo

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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