Policy Paper

North Korea’s Hydroelectric Power – The Tanchon Power Station Project

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Analysis by Peter Makowsky, Jenny Town and Samantha Pitz


At first glance, North Korea’s mountainous terrain and numerous riverine systems would seem ideal for hydroelectric power production, and it was the vision of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il which drove the country to undertake the construction of large-scale hydroelectric power station dams. The Huichon Power Stations No. 1 and 2 were intended to be the crown jewel of that effort. Kim Jong Un initially embraced that strategy, but as poor engineering and extreme weather patterns caused continued setbacks, the country shifted efforts to build more easily constructed and reliable, small-to-medium-sized power plants, built in tiers (in series), to help close the electrical energy gap.

The exemplar of this trend was described in Part I of this series on North Korea’s hydroelectric power system. That report focused on the Chongchon River and the 12 Huichon power stations located along its length. Huichon Power Stations No. 1 and 2 represent the large hydroelectric stations, each supported by their own reservoir to supply the necessary water volume to power their turbine generators. The more efficient, small-to-medium-sized hydroelectric plants are represented by the tiered spacing of Huichon Power Stations No. 3 to 12.

A third strategy for generating hydroelectric power can be found in the northeastern province of South Hamgyong, where Hochongang Power Stations No. 1 to 4 are located. These power stations are nontraditional, in that the water supply that drives their turbines does not come from an adjacent river or dam, but is received through a complex series of pipes and tunnels drawing water from distant reservoirs. Each of these power stations have large substations co-located with them. How successful the Hochongang power plants have been is not known, but the new, highly touted Tanchon Power Station project is incorporating major tunnel waterways into its design.

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