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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korea yesterday held a ceremony marking the completion of a new large-scale dam in the country’s north eastern North Hamgyong Province, state media reported Thursday, hailing the new infrastructure as integral to solving the “tense electricity issue of the country.”
An opening ceremony for the Phalhyang Dam, built as a key component of the Orangchon Power Station, took place on Wednesday in the presence of top economic officials, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
While the dam was announced as finished, work is still ongoing on the power station, with DPRK Cabinet Premier Kim Jae Ryong in a speech at the ceremony saying it “should be completed by 2020.”
Kim also framed the dam’s completion as a significant counter to international sanctions imposed on the North Korea, though he did not specifically mention the U.S. by name.
Calling the dam the “pride of socialist Korea’s unlimited development potential,” Kim said its construction “serves a devastating blow in the successful victory over the enemies’ desperate scheme to halt our advance and squeeze us with sanctions.”
The project appears to have been decades in the making, with former leader Kim Il Sung having first reportedly “unfolded the grandiose plan” in the 1980s.
The late Kim Jong Il visited the construction site in 2010, expressing his pleasure at the “rapid” work taking place on the site.
But current leader Kim Jong Un then returned to the area last year, in a visit in which he strongly rebuked local and government officials for the lack of progress.
State media in its report on the project this week said that the work had been “almost at a suspension” during that visit, but that “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un… saw to it that revolutionary measures were taken to finish the construction as early as possible,” KCNA reported.
Hints that a grand opening was imminent emerged last month, when a delegation from Russia’s consulate in the nearby city of Chongjin visited the area and reported that work had wrapped up on October 4.
Satellite imagery shows that while significant progress was made on the dam between 2004 and 2013 when it reached its final height, it then, as Kim Jong Un said in his July 2018 visit, failed to make acceptable progress in the years after.
Now open, state media said Thursday, the dam will represent “a bright prospect for expediting the completion of the Orangchon Power Station as a large-scale hydro-electric power generation base.”
Its completion will allow for a “giant advance in solving the tense electricity issue of the country and energizing the economy of North Hamgyong Province,” the report added.
North Korea’s power issues are well-documented: blackouts are common, particularly in the countryside, though the situation is widely believed to have improved under Kim Jong Un’s tenure.
That said, top officials have frequently raised the ongoing issue in official state media: the North Korean leader in his New Year’s speech described it as one of the country’s most “important and pressing tasks.”
An article carried by the KCNA earlier this week detailed efforts underway in the country to save electricity, reporting that increasing numbers of households are turning to “solar water heaters, solar panels and wind-powered generators” to meet their needs.
Wednesday’s ceremony comes amid a spate of new construction project openings this week, following the unveiling of the newly-reconstructed town at Samjiyon and the opening of a new large-scale greenhouse.
Both of those ceremonies this week were held in the presence of leader Kim Jong Un, though he appears to have not attended the event at the Phalhyang Dam.
It also comes ahead of the completion of the country’s five-year strategy for national economic development, unveiled in 2016 and set to end next year.
Speaking at the opening ceremony Wednesday, Kim Jae Ryong urged “all the officials, Party members and other working people to fulfill without fail the goal of the five-year strategy for national economic development.”
Featured image: KCNA