Monday, April 24, 2023

Construction at Huichon

Huichon is an industrial city in Chagang Province, North Korea that has been experiencing a construction boom over the last few years.

This latest round of work would likely not have occurred if it weren't for the completion of Huichon Hydroelectric Dam No. 2 - a project that was mired in complications and may have played a role in Kim Jong Il's death. The dam along with ten other hydroelectric generating stations built along the Chongchon River from ca. 2010-2019, have a combined generating capacity of 420,000 kW.

At the start of Dam No. 2's construction, approximately ninety multi-family housing buildings were also constructed in downtown Huichon that provided space for around 500 families. 

This current ongoing construction boom began in 2020. Some of the projects have been reported on by DPRK media such as in the Rodong Sinmun and in a television program titled "The Look of a New Town" which aired in July 2020. But others haven't been officially acknowledged yet. With that in mind, I'd like to highlight some examples that can be seen via satellite imagery. 

To start, there is a kilometer-long road tunnel (40.198067° 126.278119°) that connects two other projects I'll be discussing with the rest of Huichon and the Huichon Industrial Cooperative, which is a collection of factories near the center of the city. 

Satellite imagery reveals new spoils piles, suggesting that the interior of this tunnel is either being renovated or that the tunnel is being enlarged in some way.

The tunnel area as seen on October 2, 2020.

New work at the tunnel site as seen on Sept. 1, 2022.

Although the tunnel looks like a typical road and can be accessed from one of the city's main arteries, the road only leads to and from the Chilsong Electrical Appliance Factory. This feature becomes more interesting when you consider that the hill it runs through contains a warren of other tunnels, suggestive of a large underground facility (discussed further below).

Chilsong Electrical Appliances Factory as seen in 2018.

This tunnel leads directly to the Chilsong Electrical Appliance Factory (40.202665° 126.278621°) which is in the process of being completely rebuilt.

Little is publicly available about the specifics of the factory, but Kim Jong Il visited it in March 2010 and said that the factory was an important part of the country's economic future. However, that's the only leadership visit to the factory I can find in online sources. Regardless of the exact role of the factory, the fact it is being doubled in size attests to its continued importance. 

The factory is undergoing expansion. As seen in November 2022.

In 2018, the overall factory area covered approximately 12.5 hectares. In 2019/2020 the old factory was demolished and construction of a new factory campus began. This new area covers approximately 30 hectares and includes not only typical industrial buildings but will also have a stadium (somewhat common at large industrial sites), factory museum, revolutionary history/Juche museum, a health clinic for workers, and other amenities. 

The early stages of construction seem to have been carried out quickly, but it has since stalled. Little new activity is visible between October 2020 and December 2022. This may be a reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic's economic toll on the country.

Foundations for new apartment blocks across from the Chilsong Factory.

Across from Chilsong (at 40.208419° 126.281558°) the foundations for 21 apartment buildings have also been constructed, perhaps as new worker housing for the expanded factory. Previously, only farmland and a few small houses existed on the site, but they were cleared away for the new apartments sometime between 2019 and 2020. However, like the stalled progress on the factory, only the foundations of the apartment buildings have been constructed, and the work appears relatively inactive as of Dec. 2022.

As mentioned earlier, the Chilsong factory is connected to the rest of Huichon via a tunnel. The hill the tunnel runs through has several other smaller tunnels that indicate the presence of a large underground facility (UGF) at 40.188214° 126.275511°.

The hillside is encircled by a newly built 3.5-km-long perimeter road (yellow) that can also be used to reach Chilsong and that connects to the six other tunnels (white) clustered at the southwest of the hill. There is no way to know how the tunnels are actually arranged or if there are large rooms within the hill, but I've created a speculative map of the interior tunnel arrangements based upon the location of each entrance and service adit.

There are three main entrance points to the hill. These are located together, and each entrance is protected by a small, covered structure. Previously, a series of greenhouses existed on the site as well but those have been demolished. 

Excluding the main road tunnel, if my estimated tunnel layout is considered, there are at least 3 kilometers of tunnels inside the hill.

After reviewing the available imagery, there isn't enough visual evidence to say if a factory complex exists underground or if the site is being used as a hardened storage facility. However, other "electrical appliance" factories are known to be involved in North Korea's armaments industry, and the closed-off nature of the underground facility and Chilsong factory raises further questions.

The Huichon COVID-19 isolation ward.

Within the new complex of the Chilsong Factory is one of over 80 (and counting) suspected COVID-19 isolation wards. Located in an out-of-the-way building (40.201310° 126.281072°) at the inactive construction site, the COVID ward was established in 2021. The 180-square-meter building is surrounded by a wall, has two guard posts, and all of that is surrounded by a perimeter fence. 

Public information is sparse about these facilities, but because of their high security and relatively small size, I surmise that they are used to isolate those who test positive for COVID-19 or have an otherwise unidentified fever until they either recover or need to be transported to a hospital that can provide intensive care (at least, North Korea's version of intensive care). 

As part of the overall construction in the Huichon area, this school (40.205530° 126.244176°) and nearby housing have been reconstructed. The school will be 2-3 stories in height and there have been 14 new housing buildings constructed. Each building contains 2-4 individual housing units.

Across the river from the school a further 78 houses were built totaling 156 family units. The houses are in the new "countryside" architectural style promoted by Kim Jong Un in recent years.

The last construction project I want to discuss is the ongoing work at the Hagap Underground Facility (40.081244° 126.188535°).

Hagap is an underground complex 13-km south of Huichon that has an uncertain purpose. Construction began in 1991 but after several years of work it was apparently never completed. Following a prolonged period of inactivity, activity resumed in 2016. I have written about the progress at Hagap a couple of times (in 2017 and in 2019), and work is still ongoing.

Construction activity in 2016-2019 had been focused on improving access roads and building new tunnels, but since 2019 temporary worker's housing and workshops were constructed at the front of the complex, suggesting work is now being carried out in the interior of the main underground area.

As seen in the above image, construction work and landscaping have been completed at this auxiliary entrance site.

Secret nuclear facility, underground state archive, or something else, after 32 years of construction Hagap's purpose still isn't known. However, unlike the neglected underground facility at Kumchang-ni, North Korea seems intent on giving Hagap life and warrants continual monitoring.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters who help make all of this possible: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, Dylan D, GreatPoppo, Jonathan J, Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

--Jacob Bogle, 4/23/2023

Sunday, February 26, 2023

AccessDPRK Free Map Update 1.1

Two years I ago I published the largest freely available map on North Korea ever created. After creating maps for a decade, I didn't want to keep re-mapping the whole country over and over. However, North Korea isn't static and things change over time.

So while I haven't made a completely new version, I have updated the original 2021 free map to reflect some of those changes.

Everything I do is done with Google Earth because it's the most accessible and user friendly program out there, and I want people to be able to explore North Korea without needing special skills or having to buy incredibly expensive software. 

One of the biggest changes to the map that's included in this update is due to the fact that Google Earth updated their own map of North Korea's administrative boundaries to more accurately reflect them. This is important because AccessDPRK maps are organized by province. 

As a result of the changes, around 800 places that had been in Pyongyang now show up as being in different provinces (because they are). So I have gone through and moved all of those military, economic, and other sites out of the Pyongyang folders and into the folders of their "new" provinces. 

I also reviewed all of the anti-aircraft artillery batteries as part of an article I wrote last year and updated nearly 100 sites to give users the most up-to-date look at all of the active AAA locations. 

Other changes include redrawn fences of the DMZ as small sections have been moved around/rebuilt, and to take into account the "drift" that happens when new satellite imagery is added that can cause placemarks and the objects they're marking to appear slightly out of line. So now everything lines up better to reflect current imagery.

I have added additional gun emplacements in the DMZ, around 20 new "children's driving parks", updated all of the coastal fences, and made several other additions, corrections (like typos), added names to more sites, and made other small changes throughout. 

You can download this free file here

The file name is AccessDPRK_2021 Free Version-1.1 (2.2023) and it is 4.8 MB in size and contains over 61,400 items.

I am also in the process of doing a full update of the Pro Version and will hopefully be able to publish it later this year.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters who help make all of this possible: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, Dylan D, GreatPoppo, Jonathan J, Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

--Jacob Bogle, 2/26/2023

Monday, February 20, 2023

North Korea's Expanding Coastline

Seawall construction at the Honggongdo Tidelands Project. Image via KCNA, 2017.

Land reclamation has history dating back centuries around the world. Whether it's draining marshes to grow more food or building islands to handle a growing population, the land reclamation process has helped save nations and encourage economic growth.

North Korea's leaders have recognized the potential land reclamation represents and have embarked on a series of projects that span nearly the whole history of the country.

From news reports or watching changes in satellite imagery, one can see North Korea's coastline change year after year due to port expansions, new rice paddies, and aquaculture facilities. The hope surrounding these projects is that the country can become more self-sufficient regarding food supplies and improve their maritime trade and transportation networks.

Land reclamation has taken several forms in North Korea, but predominantly it's an act of simply allowing natural erosion to slowly fill in enclosed spaces while draining water. 38 North has an article on some reclamation projects that goes into greater detail on the process. 

Each generation of Kim has left their mark on the peninsula's geography. Through reclamation, one can see marshes drained, tidal flats infilled, and networks of islands connected to each other in order to build expansive new fields. 

After looking through publicized projects, historical satellite imagery including declassified imagery from the 1960s and 70s, topographical features, and old maps of coastal areas dating back to the 1940s, by my measurements, a total of 1,049 sq. km of land has either been reclaimed or is currently undergoing active reclamation in North Korea. This doesn't include future projects but represents land one can walk on right now or will be able to very soon.

The vast majority of the new land has been for agriculture with smaller amounts created to expand port facilities or to set up aquaculture/fish farming. Of this new land, over 97% of it has been added along the country's west coast.

In this article I will explore ten key land reclamation projects on the west coast, moving from north to south, and then six on the east coast. 

With 97% of all reclamation projects, North Korea's west coast has grown by 1,025 sq. km.

West Coast

Sindo District Reclamation Project (39.828238° 124.231714°)

What is now North Korea's largest island, Sin-do, was once an archipelago of over seven islands and islets including Maando, Maldo, Nojeokdo, Sari, and the Jangdo Islands that lie at the mouth of the Yalu River. In 1958 over 40 km of embankments and sea walls were constructed and an area of over 52 sq. km. was allowed to fill with river silt, creating the island as it appears today.

Sin-do is used as a major source of reeds that can be used for a wide variety of purposes from creating baskets to plastics. And the project stands out in North Korean history and state propaganda as the largest early land reclamation project, and as an example of the people's revolutionary spirit. All three Kims have visited the island to give "guidance". 

Taegyedo Tideland Reclamation Area (39.796157° 124.487555°)

There have been plans to reclaim the tidelands around Taegye Island (Taegyedo) for several decades. Initial work began in the early 1980s and envisioned reclaiming 8,800 hectares (88 sq. km.). However, the original immediate coastal area, some 3,800 hectares (38 sq. km.), had already been reclaimed in the years prior.

Approximately 15 km of seawalls (completed in 1985) were constructed, connecting Taegye Island with several other islands and to the mainland, creating a large enclosure of tidal flats and water channels.

From there, small rivers and streams were allowed to flow into the protected enclosure, enabling silt to accumulate while the water level was carefully controlled via a system of three dams. These allowed for continued fishing operations within the enclosure (predominantly shellfish) and for the silt to not get washed away with each tide.

Throughout the process, as one area became more filled, embankments were constructed and each section converted into usable farmland.

Thirty-eight years later and the project is a little more than halfway finished. Once complete, the entire Taedye-do/Yamju-gun coastal area (including those areas filled prior to 1985) will have had added 125 sq. km. of new territory.


Honggongdo-Sinmido Tidelands Project (39.651977° 124.860447°)

Click on image for a larger view. 

This has been a very ambitious reclamation project that was first announced in 2012. Currently some 10,200 hectares of land are in the process of being reclaimed in a project that has connected Sinmi Island with the mainland and employed over 45 km of seawalls to subdivide the area to create more manageable spaces for filling.

The outer seawalls for the first polder were completed in 2016, a second polder was created in 2017, a third the following year, and a fourth in 2019.

Most of polder #1 has been filled and around half of polder's #2 and #4 have been. Polder #3 is still completely flooded. However, a small section of Polder #3 is being used for fish farming.

According to the Korean Friendship Association (a pro-North Korea group), the heavy construction equipment used to build the seawalls is a mix of domestically manufactured equipment and imports from Slovakia.

Kwaksan-Oejangdo Project (39.556794° 125.112628°)

The area along the coast south of Kwaksan to the island of Oejangdo has been reclaimed through the creation of three polders, with work first beginning in the early 1980s.

By 2000 polder no. 1 was about 80% filled, the seawalls for polder no. 2 were completed in 2012 and it was two-thirds filled by 2020. Work on the third polder began in 2019 and the sea walls were completed in 2020-2021. 

Once completed, the whole project will have created 48 sq. km. of dry land. Nearly 20 islands and islets will have been incorporated into the mainland in the process.

Chongnam Stream (39.440982° 125.374683°)

Land reclamation doesn't only mean major projects involving thousands of hectares. It also includes small scale works like reclaiming marshes and small river islands.

In a small tidal stream near Chongnam, between 2014 and 2019, four plots of marshes and mud flats have been reclaimed to add to the area's farmland. Along with a fifth plot that was reclaimed ca. 1990, a total of 23.1 hectares were reclaimed through this small-scale work.

The act of enclosing a stream or riverbank to add a few hectares of farmland here and there can be seen throughout North Korea's western plains. They remain prone to flooding but can still contribute to the food supply in a country where every bushel counts.

Namyang Saltern (39.351779° 125.413742°)

The Namyang Salt Farm (saltern) is a 17 sq. km. saltern in Pyongwon County. I couldn't find much information about its creation but based on a review of Korean War-era military maps and declassified KH-9 satellite imagery, the northern sections had been completed by the 1950s and the rest was reclaimed by 1968.

Off-nadir image example of the Namyang Saltern from 1972. Declassified image from the KH-9 satellite program operated by the CIA.

Google Earth image showing the numerous evaporation ponds within the saltern.

In North Korea, salt is produced either by allowing sea water to flood small ponds or by pumping out ultra-saline water from underground sources, both methods then require the water to evaporate in the open air that causes the salt to precipitate and form large crystals of pure salt which are then collected for use. For Namyang, part of the saltern was converted to use pumped saline groundwater after 2008.

Nampo Coastline

Starting at the West Sea Barrage and moving north into Chungsan County is 42 km of reclaimed land representing basically the entire coastline there. The three largest projects in that region have been the Ansok and Kumsong tideland reclamation projects, and the Kwisong Saltern. In total, that 42 km stretch of coast represents 116.5 sq. km. of reclaimed land.

The Ansok project (38.944434° 125.185589°) began in the 1970s and was partially completed and reclamation reached just a portion of the project's envisioned extent. The original seawalls were finally completed in 2019 and work on seawalls for a second polder began in 2020. Roughly 13 sq. km. remains empty, but infilling has actively resumed. 

For Kumsong (38.759244° 125.172644°), some land was reclaimed several decades ago but work on seawalls for the largest sections didn't start until the late 1980s, after the West Sea Barrage was completed. The walls were finished by 1993 and reclamation began in earnest. Currently, about 85% of the enclosed area has been filled, with only the deeper reaches of the former Taedong River estuary remaining under water. Those underwater portions aren't going unused, however. Two aquaculture facilities totaling 7.6 sq. km. were built to take advantage of the water and aid in fish harvesting.

The Kwisong Saltern had its beginnings before the 1980s but it has been expanded over the decades and now encompasses 25.9 sq. km. In 2014, 150 hectares were converted to use pumped saline groundwater and has a capacity to produce 7,000 tons of salt annually. 

Taedong Reservoir (38.685108° 125.297410°)

Low-lying areas within the Taedong River estuary have been slowly reclaimed over the last 70 years. Additionally, the reservoir created by the construction of the West Sea Barrage in 1986 has allowed sediment and silt to build up, furthering the creation of new land whether intentional or not.

Between marshes and tidal flats that have been filled and converted to agricultural use, some 90.5 sq. km. of land has been reclaimed including the large marshes that once nearly encircled the city of Nampo.

Kangryong Bay (37.864756° 125.456633°)

The southern coast of South Hwanghae Province has seen numerous reclamation projects over the years, and a number are still in the early stages of completion. But one that stands out has been the result of the Kangryong Bay Dam.

Built in 1986-87, the 960-meter-long dam cut off Kangryong Bay from the sea. This has resulted in parts of the bay silting up and marshes drained, and that land then being converted into farmland. There are twelve sections of land that have since been developed totaling 17.6 sq. km.

Ryongmae (37.858348° 125.879742°)

First envisioned in the 1970s, the project has had a series of fits and starts. The full extent was going to be nearly 62 sq. km. in area, but the northern section (outlined in white) was never finished. By 1984 a 12.5 sq. km. section was completed and some additional work carried out, but the seawalls were breeched during a storm in 1997, and the site reflooded. The 'grand plan' was put on hold until 2011 when construction of the seawalls for the entire project (except the area in white) were erected.

This was done in two stages, 2011-2015 and 2019-2020. Today over 90% of the area has been drained and rice paddies and salterns have been built.

Yonan-gun Saltern (37.758135° 126.120169°)

The Yonan-gun Salt Farm, also called Yonbaek, is perhaps the oldest reclamation area I'll discuss. I couldn't actually find when the 16.7 sq. km. site was constructed, but it clearly shows on US Army maps of the region from 1951. Given its proximity to Seoul, it's possible that it was built out of the mudflats sometime before the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910 because salt production has always been a necessary industry for human survival and the capital of dynastic Korea would have needed a steady supply.

However, I'm including it in this article because the internal layout of the saltern has changed over the decades and adjacent areas have also been reclaimed in more recent times, creating a larger conglomeration of reclaimed land covering 21 sq. km.

Along with two other salterns, Yonan was partially converted to accept pumped groundwater as the source of saline for its operations in 2008.

Many reclaimed areas are built on tidal mudflats, but they often don't reclaim the whole tidally affected territory. Yonan, on the other hand, extends right up to the main channel of the Han River and has a series of piled stone "groins" (similar to jetties) reaching out into mud like spokes to help protect the saltern from erosion. 

East Coast

Rason (Rajin & Songbon sites)

Area highlighted shows that this portion of the Rajin (Najin) port was planned to be reclaimed while Korea was under Japanese occupation. Image: US Army Map Service, 1944. Digital copy via the Perry-CastaƱeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas. Highlight markings by AccessDPRK. 

The port city of Rajin (Najin) in the Rason Special Economic Zone has seen a lot of investment since the late 2000s, with thousands of new homes, scores of businesses, and numerous parks/recreational facilities constructed in the last 15 or so years. Part of that improvement has been extending the city's waterfront.

The planned reclamation area (42.239161° 130.303417°) highlighted in the above image was initially designed by the Japanese but never carried out. However, from 2011-2013, work was done on a modified reclamation plan and 7.1 hectares were added to the city. The land was used to build decorative gardens and a waterpark. 

To the north of Nanjin is Sonbong. Sonbong had traditionally been the more important of the two cities prior to the establishment of the special economic zone when it was superseded by Rajin. Still, resources have been spent on improving the city and on reclaiming land that had been a brackish lake and marshes (42.334866° 130.372910°). In total, 65 hectares have been drained since 2006.

Tanchon port expansion (40.416884° 128.918915°)

Tanchon is a key city in South Hamgyong Province and is home to zinc and magnesia foundries, as well as serving as the gateway to the major Komdok mining region. Yet, it lacked modern port facilities until 2012. Including the surrounding wetlands, Tanchon's new port construction resulted in 21 hectares being reclaimed. 

Some 1,500 meters of repaired and elongated breakwaters were also built to create the protected harbor.

Cha'ho Submarine Base (40.202812° 128.654004°)

North Korea has thirteen underground naval facilities, the largest are submarine bases. One such base is Cha'ho. To build the base, two tunnels were excavated for submarines and a new supply wharf was also created. The excavated spoils were used to create new land for berthing and other base activities.

In total, over 62,000 sq. meters of land was reclaimed. 

KEDO Lakes (40.098358° 128.339233°)

The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) was established in 1995 to implement parts of the 1994 Agreed Framework in which North Korea was to suspend its activities at the Yongbyon nuclear facility and in return KEDO would build two light water reactors for civilian energy production.

The site chosen for these reactors is located 28 km south of Cha'ho. The site was covered by rice paddies and two small lakes. The paddies had already been created through draining portions of the lakes, but additional reclamation work needed to be done to secure the foundations for the power plant.

In total, 300 hectares of new land has been created at the site, both before and as a result of the KEDO construction project. 

Unfortunately for global nuclear disarmament, North Korea violated the terms of the Agreed Framework and KEDO eventually shut down in 2006. What's left of the site is an industrial wasteland, with giant foundation trenches and piles of construction materials left over. The site seems to now be used to store raw materials like stone and sand, and occasional vehicle movements can be seen on satellite but they're unrelated to any on-site construction.

Wonsan Bay Marshes (39.409847° 127.442985°)

The largest reclamation example on the east coast involves the marshlands of the Chontan and Ryonghung rivers as they merge into a single delta and empty into Wonsan Bay. 

Three tracts of land totaling 16.1 sq. km have been reclaimed since the 1980s. One tract is used as a saltern and the other two are rice paddies. 

Future of Reclamation

As stated at the beginning, all of these reclamation projects have created 1,049 sq. km. of land, and that's taken 70 years. In 2012, Kim Jong Un said that he wanted land reclamation to rise to 3,000 sq. km. It's difficult to see how that goal would be possible without completely enclosing the waters between Sinmi Island and Sohae, enclosing the Chongchon River delta, and destroying the remaining bays of South Hwanghae Province. It's also difficult to see this happening within a single lifetime.

Nonetheless, despite natural disasters and financial problems, North Korea has a strong history of slow but steady land reclamation progress. Over 200 sq. km. of water have already been enclosed since 2010, and there has been improved progress at stalled projects. 

Although North Korea has less arable land than South Korea, the two countries actually have a similar amount of land actively under plough. And Pyongyang is trying to solve the country's food problems through sheer volume, since it refuses to address the underlying economic policies that have left one in five young children with stunted growth due to malnourished. 

As I have shown, reclaimed land is predominately used for agriculture (particularly rice and reeds), salterns, and to a lesser extent aquaculture and port facilities. While this may benefit the nation in the short-term, serious long-term questions have been raised about their sustainability and impact on coastal ecosystems.

Nearly all of the reclaimed land was built over wetlands and tidal flats, two ecosystems at-risk all around the world. Wetlands also provide buffers against storms and wave damage. Without them, typhoon storm surges can cause even greater coastal damage and flood farther inland.

If the seawalls aren't high enough, North Korea could see thousands of hectares of valuable farmland inundated as precedent has demonstrated (as with Ryongmae and elsewhere). Additionally, rising sea levels due to climate change put these sites at risk of not merely flooding but also saltwater infiltration that could make their agricultural output plummet. 

There are several ways to mitigate the risks to climate change, and maintaining sufficient coastal wetlands can offset storm damage while also improving regional biodiversity. However, the North Korean government have not been forthcoming when it comes to these mitigation plans, if it has any at all. 

In the face of these issues and knowing that North Korea will be reclaiming ever greater amounts of land, one must look at their overall impact with skepticism. Food security is obviously a necessary goal to achieve, but if those efforts result in the destruction of hundreds or thousands of square kilometers of wetland and tidal areas or if the new lands can't be protected from flooding, then their creation may not actually benefit future generations. 

Note: if you would like the polygons from Google Earth to explore all of these sites and those I didn't include, just email me

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, GreatPoppo, Jonathan J., Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

--Jacob Bogle, 2/19/2023

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Pyongsan Uranium Plant Reservoir Expansion

On New Year's Eve, following the Sixth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of the Party's 8th Central Committee, Kim Jong Un laid out his plan to "exponentially increase" the number of nuclear warheads North Korea has. Current estimates are that North Korea has enough fissile material for up to 55 warheads, has assembled ~20 weapons, and has a production capacity of one bomb every two months. 

Publicly announced plans are rarely made prior to any foundation work being done. Whether its massive new farms, high-rises in Pyongyang or new weapons, by the time an announcement is made the plans are often already in the process of being carried out.

To dramatically increase the number of warheads, the country would need to ramp up uranium and plutonium production. On the uranium front, the Pyongsan Uranium Concentration Plant is North Korea's primary facility for the production of yellowcake uranium (80% uranium oxide). From there it is sent to the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center for enrichment to weapons-grade uranium. The number of centrifuges at Yongbyon is a major bottleneck in their ability to increase the manufacturing rate of warheads, but there are signs that North Korea has been trying to resolve this as well.

At Pyongsan, the waste material from the plant is sent to a reservoir about 300 meters away, across the Namch'on River. I have written about the deficiencies of this reservoir and the risk of river pollution from the complex, but it seems like North Korea has been planning for its continued use through ongoing uranium production for some time.

Depending on the exact height of the dam, the current reservoir has 35 hectares (86 acres) of usable space. In 2006, the visible area of precipitated waste sediment was roughly two hectares (4.9 acres). That had increased to 6.1 hectares (15 acres) by 2017. 

There is some variability in what can be seen and measured due to seasonally changing water levels within the reservoir, but the area of visible waste now covers at least 13.2 hectares (32.6 acres); however, the solid pile has nearly reached the same level as the top of the embankment dam and has blocked off one of the reservoir's main lobes, limiting the reservoir's lifespan and risking flooding/overtopping events each time there's heavy rain fall. 

Historic extent of visible waste material for 2007, 2017, and 2022.

If Kim Jong Un is serious about adding dozens or hundreds of new warheads to his arsenal within the next decade or so, Pyongsan is going to need more space to hold its toxic waste, and it looks like that is exactly what's happening now.

Google Earth now shows a reservoir expansion that's in the early days of construction. The current reservoir sits within a series of low hills and shallow valleys. The valley immediately east of the reservoir is being prepared to serve as a future storage site. 

In early 2022, a mere 120 meters away, a trench was constructed leading from the current reservoir into the new valley. And at the end of the valley, nearly a kilometer away, the foundations for a new dam were being excavated. 

This 175-meter-long trench will carry a pipe from the old reservoir and into the valley along the path of a small stream, allowing it to fill using gravity.

Nearly a kilometer southeast of the trench, this future dam will block the valley to create the reservoir. It will be around 165 meters in length.

Depending on the finished height of the dam (as constrained by the abutting hills), the usable size for this new waste reservoir could be between 16 and 19 hectares (39-47 acres). The current reservoir was constructed in 1990, but activity at Pyongsan has historically not been constant, with several periods of little-to-no production. But if the last ten or so years of production levels are any guide, this new reservoir could hold another 15-20 years' worth of waste material on top of what can still be added to the existing reservoir, which could still be operational for the next ten years depending on the depth of its western lobe.

Since the current reservoir still has life, there may not be a need to rush the construction of this new site. But the fact it has been planned and initial work carried out speaks to the long-term plans of Kim Jong Un, and that is to keep uranium production going for as long as possible. 

One thing that I will be interested in watching for is whether or not the new reservoir will be lined with protective sheets (the current reservoir isn't) or if any mitigation efforts will be undertaken to prevent leaks into the ground water and into the larger Ryesong River which is just 2 km away and flows toward South Korea. 

All of this is happening as 2022 became a record year for the number of missile tests carried out, far surpassing any other. And it is happening following announcements in 2021 surrounding the development of tactical nuclear warheads, hypersonic glid vehicles, and continued work on submarine launched ballistic missiles. Kim Jong Un has made it very clear he wants to develop a dizzying array of new weapon systems, and the expansion of this reservoir is a practical infrastructure step toward enabling North Korea to engage in the types of industrial activity needed to eventually produce them in the long-term.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

--Jacob Bogle, 1/5/2023

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

AccessDPRK in 2022

This last year was a great one for AccessDPRK, and thanks to your continued readership and for the support of Patreon backers, 2023 has some very cool things in store.

There were two main events for the AccessDPRK project in 2022. The first is that I completed the series Kim Jong Un's First Decade in Power. Spanning twelve articles written between August 2021 and February 2022, it represents one of the most detailed records of his first decade as leader of North Korea and it was the most ambitious writing project that I've undertaken for the blog.

The other big thing for the year was being featured in an episode of Super Users for VICE World News. The online episode "What North Korea Doesn't Want You To See" was published on September 21 and has since received nearly 4 million views. 

Thanks in part to the video, the blog also received the most annual traffic ever, surpassing 2021 by over 40%. On Twitter, the account gained over 300 new followers and the most popular tweet for the year was introducing the article about North Korea's largest underground facilities which got over 50,000 impressions.

This went on to spur some media attention with reporting in Metro, UNILAD, and The Sun.

With the 14 articles published this year, the blog now contains 156 articles that equal the equivalent of 1,063 pages of material and includes 1,023 images. I have also made public 14 city briefs out of the 36 that have been created so far, and I will continue to publish the rest this year. 

As part of those articles, I was able to review over 1,500 air defense sites and create the most up-to-date map of all of their locations, I detailed the layout of the DMZ and its various fortifications, and I was able to shed some more light on North Korea's large underground facilities as well as archeological sites.

The top 3 most-read articles for 2022 were:

1. The Largest Underground Sites in North Korea

2. Tunnels to Nowhere

3. Phishing for AccessDPRK

Looking to 2023

There are always things left to do and new ideas for the future. As I mentioned last year, I started working on a book and I will continue that this year. I will also keep publishing the existing city briefs, but those were created with the help of a dedicated sponsor and the future of that project is uncertain, but I will address that more when the time comes.

I have ongoing mapping projects for housing, land reclamation, and military land usage. They are rather large projects but I'm hoping to finish at least one of those this year while also maintaining regular posts here. (I perpetually have a list of 15-20 article drafts to work on, so there's always going to be something to share.)

Additionally, since last year I have been assisting Human Rights Watch with a major report that's related to North Korea's anti-pandemic efforts and how they've impacted the economy. The exact publication date hasn't been set but it should be sometime this spring.

Lastly, I have begun to review and update the 2021 map. Whether or not this gets turned into a full-blown new version or simply an occasional update I haven't decided. Regardless, there's been around 4,000 additions, improved categorizations, and other changes made so far. In the end, most of the changes won't involve new places mapped (although there will be plenty), but I'm wanting to focus on its usability and on adding as many relevant details as possible (construction dates, official names, types of equipment, related news stories, etc.) There is no timeline for this, it's just something that I want to start digging my teeth into.


Over the years AccessDPRK has helped alert South Korean authorities to the risk of industrial pollution from North Korea, was the first to detail activity at the Kyo-hwa-so No. 88 prison, created the first detailed surveys of North Korea's gas stations and monument construction under Kim Jong Un, and has kept tract of everything from border control changes to missile bases and market activity. Information from AccessDPRK has also been used in reports from RAND Co., NK News, 38 North, DailyNK, JoongAng Daily, Nikkei, RFA, Asahi Shimbun, UPI, the OECD, and many others. 

Patreon supporters enable me to devote more time to mapping, in depth research, and writing. With support levels ranging from $3 to $20 a month, rewards can include getting article copies before they're published, having locations personally analyzed by me, and even get access to sections of the 2021 Pro Map.

If you're not able to support the project on a monthly basis but would still like to help, you can also help with a one-time $5 donation via Buy Me a Coffee.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

For past annual reviews, see 2021, 2020, 2019, and 2018.

--Jacob Bogle, 1/3/2023

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Dissecting the DMZ

I've written about the DMZ before, discussing how it has changed over the last decade or so. But now I would like to go into greater detail about its actual functionality - how it's laid out, what kind of defenses exist, and what kind of offensive capabilities are contained within.

The DMZ (demilitarized zone) is defined as a buffer zone between the two Koreas. It extends for 250 km across the peninsula and is approximately 4 km wide. However, the only fully defined part of the DMZ is the "military demarcation line" (MDL) which is the de facto land border - the actual line dividing the countries. On either side of that line is the buffer zone, which happens to be the most militarized area in the world.

In practice, the part of the DMZ that is actually devoid of any soldiers varies considerably in width. And the width of the various integrated defenses on either side of that no-man's land also varies. For the purposes of the AccessDPRK maps and this blog, I classify military sites within 5 km of the military demarcation line on North Korea's side as "the DMZ", because within that area lies an almost uninterrupted web of observation posts, storage sites, bases, artillery positions, and other sites that clearly form a unified military infrastructure.

General DMZ overview. The military demarcation line (MDL) is in yellow, and the two rows of electrified DMZ fencing are in white.

Detailed look at the DMZ's layout with the MDL dividing North and South Korea, an empty "no man's land" (green area), and the two heavily militarized fences on the North's side.

What became the DMZ largely reflects the battlelines as they existed in 1953. On the North Korean side, relics of the Korean War can still be seen including cratered hillsides and trench remains. And many of the extant static defenses such as anti-tank ditches and dragon's teeth can be traced to the 1960s and 1970s. Although some of these sites have been heavily impacted by erosion and would offer little practical defense today others still exist in good condition, and the manned instillations along the DMZ are routinely maintained and hundreds of new sites have been constructed over the years.

With thousands of manned positions and hundreds of kilometers worth of trenches and anti-tank ditches, the DMZ is a considerable defensive line. Because of this complicated layout, I want to try and "dissect" it piece by piece. 

One last note, the images used are chosen because they provide a clear view of the site being looked at. Image quality can vary a lot, so the most recent image may not display the best visuals. Perhaps there's cloud cover, it's too dark, too bright, at the wrong angle, etc. However, if an image I've chosen does happen to be from several years ago, that site still looks the same as it does in recent images. The older image is simply "prettier" and makes it easier to show the necessary details. 

Order of Battle

The exact details of North Korea's order of battle aren't fully known publicly, but what is known would still take up more room than I have for this post. However, the Ministry of Defense (formerly the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces) deploys roughly 70% of its active duty ground forces south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan line that lies roughly 120 km north of the DMZ. A substantial portion of the Navy and Air Force is also positioned within that area as are five short-to-medium-range ballistic missile bases.

Some of the details include that the DMZ is manned by members of the Korean People's Army I, II, IV, and V Corps according to Joseph Bermudez's book The Armed Forces of North Korea. Their operations are under the command of the Third Department of the General Staff Department's Operations Bureau which is part of the Ministry of Defense and subordinate to the State Affairs Commission.

These Corps represent the First Echelon of KPA Ground Forces and defend the DMZ and the areas immediately behind it. The Second Echelon of forces (which include the 820th Tank Corps and 815th Mechanized Corps) are tasked with defending the main invasion avenues into North Korean territory on the approaches to Pyongyang.

Each Corps will have their own specific makeup but, in general, they will consist of light infantry brigades, artillery brigades, tank brigades, sniper units, anti-tank units, electronic warfare/SIGINT units, reconnaissance units, communication and transport units, engineering regiments, and others. They will also have units assigned to chemical warfare and nuclear defense (although not nuclear weapons).

Special Operations Forces are also deployed along the DMZ and are under the command of the Reconnaissance Bureau and Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau. 

The 3rd Air Division is responsible for protecting the south of the country and the DMZ. Immediate aerial support could be provided by the eight closest primary airfields and would include support from SU-25s, MiG-17s, MiG-29s, An-2 biplanes, and MD-500 and Mil Mi-2 helicopters (among other manned aircraft and UAVs). There are also 29 additional runways, landing strips, heliports, and emergency runways within 100 km of the DMZ. And, of course, fighter and bomber aircraft could be sent from any of the airfields in North Korea, not just the ones in closest proximity. 

Ballistic missiles under the control of the Strategic Rocket Forces would be used to destroy key targets within South Korea and to help Special Operations Forces disrupt and push back an invasion by South Korea by opening up a "second front". 

Invasion Routes

Hypothetical south-to-north land invasion routes based on favorable geography.

Several portions of the DMZ serve as natural invasion routes that could be used by either side to invade the other. From a defensive perspective, the North Korean fortifications would stall an invasion coming from the South that would likely be funneled through the low and flat terrain between Kaesong to Pyongyang (an invasion route that has been used historically for over a thousand years), north toward the city of Koksan which would take out several important infrastructure sites and also grant access to Pyongyang, from the South Korean city of Cheorwon to North Korea's Sepo and through a valley into Wonsan (cutting Kangwon Province in two), and lastly through the narrow plain that exists along nearly the entire east coast (also an historic invasion route)

To help slow down a ground invasion, a network of unmanned static defenses has been constructed over the decades. Many have been impacted by time and erosion, but the sheer number and breadth of them means that they remain an obstacle that would have to be taken into consideration.

Unmanned Anti-invasion Defenses

Except for a mountainous border region in Kangwon Province where there is only one line of fencing, the DMZ is protected by two lines of electric fencing. Each line of fencing (separated by 0.5-1 km) consists of two parallel rows of fence. The fence lines are dotted with around 10,000 foxholes in total. There are at least 99 gates in the second (interior) fence line as well that allows KPA personnel access to the first (forward) fence, observation posts, and foxholes.

Example of one of the gates in the second fence line.

In low-lying areas like valleys and plains there are anti-tank ditches, anti-tank walls, and rows of dragon's teeth (pyramidal shaped concrete blocks that can't be driven over). I've located over 80 km of anti-tank ditches/walls and 56 sites where dragon's teeth are present within the 5 km designated area. 

Close-up image of some of the complex fortifications along the DMZ. The orange lines are anti-tank ditches, beige lines are dragon's teeth, and the icons are roadblocks.

Wider view of the unmanned static defenses near Pyonggang, within the Cheorwon-Wonsan invasion corridor.

Roads in and around the DMZ are not paved but are simply winding dirt tracks. This is actually part of the overall defensive strategy as such roads force vehicles to slow down and do not provide direct routes further into North Korean territory. These roads are protected by large anti-tank blocks/roadblocks that can be knocked over into the roadway and block vehicles from passing until the blocks can be removed. There are around 170 of these sites within 5 km of the MDL and dozens more outside of the immediate area.

Manned Defenses 

Various fortifications and related sites within the defined 5 km area. The white lines are the main fences and the orange and beige lines are anti-tank ditches and dragon's teeth. Observation posts (OP), forward posts, munitions storage igloos, gates, small units, and hardened artillery sites are all within this section.

If one were to look at a cross-section of the DMZ, its layout would generally follow this pattern (moving north from the MDL): fence #1, observation posts (ops), forward posts, fence #2, additional posts (entrenched positions, fire teams, artillery), and then medium- and long-range artillery positions such as HARTS. 

Back from the second fence are also munitions storage sites, larger bases/units, vehicle facilities, and other supporting instillations that are interspersed throughout. 

According to the AccessDPRK 2021 Map, there are 544 independent observation towers.

Immediately behind the first fence, spaced anywhere from 0.5 to 2 km apart, are 183 "forward posts" which are the forwardmost manned positions capable of shooting back at an enemy. These posts vary in size but are surrounded by trenches and include their own observation sites as well as fire control centers, fire teams, and can also have entrenchments for short-range artillery and mortars. 

Forward posts are usually positioned on hilltops such as in this example. A network of hundreds of kilometers of trenches weave their way through the whole DMZ.  

HARTS (hardened artillery sites) deploy 4-8 artillery pieces such as 122 mm and 152 mm howitzers. The guns can be rolled out onto prepared positions, fired, and then pulled back underground for protection. The underground facility can also provide additional storage and even protected living quarters if needed. In the example shown, additional large bunkers exist to the right of the HARTS installation. 

There are 69 HARTS positions within the 5 km area. Between 2009 and 2017, a total of 126 new HARTS and hardened Multiple Launch Rocket System emplacements were constructed within range of the DMZ and can hit targets as far away as Seoul. They represent 20.7% of all HARTS located within 100 km.

Typical example of a mortar line.

Mortar emplacements can exist as part of a larger fortified site or, as in the example above, as stand-alone sites. As is often the case with all types of artillery across the DMZ, this mortar line exists on the downward (back) slope of a hill providing defilade protection against a counterattack because its position is not in direct line of sight but obscured by the hill.

There are also dozens of empty prepared positions along the DMZ for artillery. Some sit in the open and others have small bunkers for protection. These are reserve sites that allow artillery pieces to be moved in from elsewhere and from site to site to add additional fire power in a specific region as needed, but whose destruction wouldn't significantly degrade North Korea's capabilities since they can quickly be repaired or simply abandoned, and the artillery moved to another site. 

Example of a small base.

There are around 800 fortified positions (including artillery) and rear support bases that lie 1-2 km behind the second row of fencing. Excluding artillery sites, these bases tend to be small (only a few buildings) and may only have specific functions like billeting troops, providing vehicle storage and maintenance, storing weapons and other equipment, serving as command and communication centers, and some will include field hospitals. 

The DMZ is filled with storage sites, from the underground facilities at HARTS to munitions bunkers at mortar lines to partially underground cellars at hilltop bases. But there are also more traditional storage igloos (or bunkers) that dot the landscape.

The storage bunkers are relatively small, with an interior space of no more than 50 sq. m., and consist of a concrete box that has been positioned within a berm or other revetment for safety. Some are located alone as a single structure while others are clustered together in groups of ten or more bunkers.

Between bases, forward posts, observation sites, HARTS, mortar lines, gates, and other sites, there are at least 1,700 manned facilities within 5 km of the MDL in the AccessDPRK 2021 map, but precisely identifying and classifying the locations along the DMZ isn't exactly straightforward and the number of locations could be higher depending on how they're classified/organized.

For aerial defense, not only does North Korea have the aforementioned airbases within 100 km of the DMZ, but there are also eight surface-to-air missile batteries that form a line across the peninsula and are within 50 km of the military demarcation line, and a further ten SAM batteries are within 100 km along with several other permanent installations that can be used for mobile SAM systems.

There are also around 200 shorter-range anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) batteries within 100 km that can attack ROK/US aircraft that try to penetrate into North Korea; although, their effectiveness against modern jets would likely be minimal as most aircraft can fly above the range of AAA systems and may never be forced to come within range of their guns.

Final Thoughts

In the event that South Korea were to launch an attack, North Korea's response wouldn't only be to hold off the invasion but would most likely trigger a counterattack to capture Seoul before the United States could transport more troops and equipment from bases in Japan and Guam. While any attempt to hold Seoul would fail, the battle for the city (no matter how temporary) would result in tremendous civilian casualties. North Korea could unleash a barrage of chemical weapons on the city, and it could use long range ballistic missiles to knock out US capacity further afield by attacking Guam, slowing any allied response.

It is this terrifying risk of Seoul, a city of 10 million, being bombed into oblivion and the severe disruption to global trade that has held off the US and South Korea from ever preemptively attacking North Korea's nuclear and missile sites or assassinating a Kim. 

Although technology has advanced and a concerted allied attack on DMZ positions could destroy most North Korean positions within 72 hours, Pyongyang would follow any attack with missiles fired from bases further inland, some deep within mountain ranges. Complicating matters even more is the fact that the US does not have confidence in its ability to take out all of North Korea's hardened positions and their mobile ballistic missile forces before North Korea could fire off a nuclear weapon.

And so, the DMZ - for all of its outdated dragon's teeth and Soviet-era artillery - remains an incredibly dangerous tripwire that could trigger a war no one genuinely wins. The threat of a conventional bombardment of Seoul from the DMZ bought North Korea the time to build a credible nuclear deterrent, and now that deterrent has made the risk of even a conventional conflict along the DMZ too costly. 

In the meantime, an ever-advancing arms race continues and the rhetoric coming from either side of no man's land suggests the DMZ will remain a scar across Korea for years to come. As I have shown in previous posts, the DMZ isn't unchanging. And with no clear path toward peace, let alone reunification, it's important for the world to keep an eye on this narrow strip of land that serves as the most militarized demilitarized zone in the world.

I would like to thank my current Patreon supporters: Alex Kleinman, Amanda Oh, Donald Pierce, GreatPoppo, Joel Parish, John Pike, JuneBug, Kbechs87, Russ Johnson, and Squadfan.

--Jacob Bogle, 12/21/2022