As we twiddle our thumbs waiting for that nuclear test, here's an amusing tale of North Korean engineering prowess, as guided by the Dear Leader and his young successor.
Heechon [or Huichon] Dam was a major hydroelectric project built to provide power to downtown Pyongyang, and was scheduled to open in 2012. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper waxed lyrical:
Like the warm hands of leader Kim Jong Il, the transmission lines from the Huichon Power Station are now almost stretching out for the capital city of Pyongyang.
To meet the great expectations of Kim Jong Il who entrusted them to such a gigantic work, the builders of the power station have gained great successes.
They have erected big dams, cut waterway tunnels and carried out other bulky tasks that were said to take ten years and more; and in the wake of trial operation of generating equipment at the Huichon Power Station No. 1, they successfully assembled the hulks of generators at the Huichon Power Station No. 2.
These successes had an immediate chain reaction on the scaffold workers laying transmission cables from the power station to the capital city....
It won’t be long before we can see the power lines reach Pyongyang amid the cheers of the citizens.
Such was the prestige of the project that Kim Jong-il paid no less than five of his trademark on-site guidance visits:
“Thanks to the struggle of construction workers including military personnel, the prospect of finishing this project before 2012 has opened up. Before the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Supreme Leader, the entire Party, military and the people should battle to get this power plant construction finished,” Kim reportedly said on his fourth such visit in December, 2010.
Designed to generate 300,000kw, the plant now becomes the largest of all North Korea’s ‘operational’ hydroelectric dams. According to the propaganda that accompanied the construction every step of the way, the electricity generated by Heechon is supposed to make big inroads into the country’s power generation shortfall.
However, according to one inside source, the determination to declare the project complete by April 2012 hides a less impressive reality. In truth, the electricity transmission facilities are apparently incomplete, while problems gathering enough water behind the dam mean that the production of electricity for civilian consumption is still some way off.
One inside source explained, “They already had a ceremony for Heechon last September, but electricity has still not been produced yet because of the transmission facilities. And even when that is finished, they cannot fill up the reservoir behind the dam so generation will still be very difficult.”
Sadly, problems with the dam continue - including the development of some rather worrying cracks. Here's a report from today's Daily NK:
Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Eun are both coming in for quiet criticism from Party cadres over their respective roles in the botched construction of a massive dam and power station complex at Heechon, two hours north of Pyongyang.
According to information received by Daily NK, the finger of blame is being pointed at Kim Jong Il for putting in place an impossibly demanding construction schedule, and at Kim Jong Eun for spontaneously deciding to divert a large quantity of high-strength concrete needed for the sound construction of the dam to other construction projects.
A source from Pyongyang explained the news today, saying, “Just between themselves, Cabinet cadres are saying that the construction went wrong because the elderly gentleman [Kim Jong Il] ignored all the common sense rules of construction and handed down an order telling them to bring the ten-year construction period forward by roughly seven years.”
“Nobody can say it out loud, but it is also claimed that the diversion of a thousand tons of high-strength cement from the power station construction site to the construction of apartments in Hoiryeong was done on the spontaneous orders of the successor [Kim Jong Eun],” the source added.
The trigger for the diversion, the source went on, was apparently when Kim Jong Il visited Hoiryeong in 2010. Received in the city by Kim Jong Eun as he returned from China across the Tumen River in August that year, Kim allegedly voiced angry complaint at the condition of the city’s downtown core, which he had ordered to be improved in keeping with its role as the hometown of Kim Jong Suk, one of Kim Il Sung’s wives and a propaganda symbol of the Kim dynasty itself.
“At the time the successor was building up his list of achievements by taking charge of the construction of the power station at Heechon,” the source said. “However, he just took cement intended for the power station and transferred it to Hoiryeong. Then they had to use normal cement instead, and that is why the dam is defective now.”
Following the diversion of the cement, construction managers at Heechon were forced to employ a different mix of sand and cement, with the cement itself being an ordinary-strength product called ‘Suncheon Cement.’ This, it is said, is why cracks are currently developing in the dam.
Interventions by despotic leaders into technical matters of which they have no understanding, purely for political gain, do not have a good record in that part of the world. Remember China's Great Leap Forward? One wonders if Kim Jong-un has been making on-site guidance visits to the underground nuclear testing site.