North Korea has adopted ten major environmental laws (as of 2005) and, like many areas, pays lip service to environmental protection. However, the country has one of the world's worst environmental records. Even though the destruction of the environment, like deforestation, has directly contributed to famine, flooding, and loss of life, the country's economic desperation has led them to continually ignore the environment in favor of industrial activity. According to CSR Asia, by 2005 North Korea was releasing 10.8 million tons of air pollutants, twice the amount released by the industrial powerhouse of South Korea.
The Taedong estuary is the receipiant of the bulk of the pollution released into the river. This is made even worse by the West Sea Barrage (completed in 1986) which prevents natural and adequate removal of pollutants. And thanks to a lack of necessary water treatment plants, the river has "an average chemical oxygen demand of 2.15 ppm in 2008, falling behind the environmental standard of 3 ppm."
North Korea's two largest coal-fired electrical plants lie along the Taedong. The Pukchang (also spelled Bukchang) Thermal Power Plant, located 6 miles east of the Kaechon internment camp in South Pyongan Province, is one of eight major coal-fired electrical plants in the country. It has a capacity of 1.6 GW (twice the capacity of America's Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant) and is the largest of North Korea's power plants. However, the reality on the ground is that Pukchang's output may be less than one third of it's designed capacity. Regardless of production, the plant still releases vast amounts of pollution into the air and river.
From 2005 to 2007 the country embarked on a new construction program: cut off a 3.4 mile long portion of the Taedong River and turn it into a massive pool of toxic sludge.
Previsouly waste from the Pukchang plant was diverted into two smaller bends of the river, seen as the flat areas at the top and center-right of the loop. These coal ash basins were not fully separated from the river and during heavy rains pollutants would wash into the Taedong. This new, much larger waste basin was created when a neck of land (left side of image) was cut, the rock being used to build makeshift retention dams.
|Close-up of sludge water.|
In a touch of irony during the construction of this new basin, a small hydroelectric generating station was also built. It's located where the land was cut and takes advantage of the river's new, slightly shorter course.
Inside North Korea's Environmental Collapse, by Phil McKenna, NOVA/PBS 2013
--Jacob Bogle, 9/27/15