Monday, July 24, 2023

Kim Jong Un's Underground Pyongyang

Verifying the existence of underground facilities can be a difficult task, especially when their existence is a state secret. But rumors eventually come out and tantalizing hints of their presence can sometimes be found.

For North Korea, these rumors tell of secret subway lines beneath Pyongyang and underground highways connecting major palaces, maybe even reaching as far north as the border with China. I have written quite a lot about North Korea's underground infrastructure, but direct evidence and declassified sources still remain scarce. 

Overview of the Pyongyang Government District.

However, within the secured government district of Pyongyang are signs of multiple tunnels and underground structures. While it's impossible to know how they all connect to one another or even if they do, their locations and prevalence do hint at a fairly robust underground network that supports the infrastructure, transportation, and security needs of Pyongyang's most important district.

The easiest way to identify underground facilities is to either spot their entrances or actually catch them being constructed. For the secured government district, most of the buildings were constructed decades ago, placing their secrets out of reach for those without security clearances. But under Kim Jong Un, there have been some substantial changes to the district and that has given North Korea watchers an opportunity to see observe some of them.

There are two main sets of tunnels within the 138-hectare district that are visible to satellite. The first is a set of four tunnels near the Central Committee Office building (also known as Kim Jong Un's office) and the adjacent villa (Residence No. 15). The second is a set of four tunnels leading to underground parking garages beneath three buildings that were constructed in 2018-2019.  

There is also a possible tunnel, marked in light blue, but I can't fully verify that it is a tunnel. In some images, however, it appears that there may be a road tunnel that dives under a gate near Kim Kyong-hui Hall, just south of Changgwangsan House.

But the tunnels around Kim Jong Un's office and Residence No. 15 are quite clear.

April 10, 2020 image of the four tunnels around the Central Committee Building (Kim's office) and his district villa, Residence No. 15.

Apart from the tunnels by the villa and office, which I'll detail next, there is also a smaller tunnel in the maintenance complex. This complex handles building heating and cooling equipment, provides maintenance services, and may also play a role in electricity and water supply to the adjacent buildings. The tunnel (39.016557° 125.743544°) is 5-6 meters wide and runs toward the southwest. It's visible on all satellite imagery going back to 2000.

The tunnel may simply lead to a hardened bunker housing additional equipment or it could actually connect into the Office 39 complex (which includes the Kim Il Sung Revolutionary History Institute [39.016134° 125.741890°] and other Party buildings). Given its size and location, I do not think this tunnel plays any special security role. Rather, it's most likely just an access tunnel for providing building services.

April 1, 2023 image showing changes since 2020.

In 2022 a villa was rebuilt and enlarged, and in late 2022 a new hardened structure was built over the site of the tunnel nearest Kim's office building. 

The 'office tunnel' is large enough for vehicles and may lead to an underground garage or a larger underground complex. The hardened structure above it is approximately 60 by 30 meters in size and rises approximately 3 meters above the surrounding gardens.

Conjectured tunnel layout.

Due to the number of visible entrances, a concept of the tunnel layout can be formed with some confidence despite not having all the information. 

The covered walkway from Residence No. 15 was constructed in 2010. It resembles another such walkway that was built in 2017 in the armed forces district 5 km north at 39.062677° 125.740196°. 

The southern tunnel entrance was also constructed ca. 2010-11. Following the path drawn in the above image, the southern tunnel is about ~150 meters from the northern tunnel at the Central Committee Office Building (CCOB). 

The northern tunnel, however, was only constructed in 2018. This means that the southern tunnel likely went directly to the CCOB, where an alleged 60-car garage also exists beneath the assembly hall. 
This connection allows people from Residence No. 15 to travel on foot or by car directly and safely to the CCOB. Then, in 2018, a new tunnel was built from the CCOB that would link up with the southern tunnel.

This construction also included the building of an underground structure which was later (2022) replaced by the 60 x 30-meter hardened structure now seen in satellite images. Allegedly, a small, electrified rail car is also employed within the tunnels, but I haven't seen any supporting evidence of that.

To the north of the Central Committee Office Building, between 2018 and 2020 four currently unidentified buildings were constructed. These buildings include glass-covered entrances to underground parking garages that, most likely, would also double as bomb shelters in the event of an air attack.

Underground garage entrances under construction in June 2020.

The underground garage entrances after completion are covered by glass canopies.

There are also reports (including from Hwang Jang-yop) that the Pyongyang Metro has a secret line for government use that connects important government and military installations around the capital, and that it even reaches as far as Nampo and Sunchon (50 km away). While this has never been independently verified, the government district does lie within 2 km of four subway stations, with the closest being Pongwa Station at only 600 meters away from Kim's office.

As most of the district was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s (as was the metro), underground entrances to the metro system could be hidden beneath key administrative buildings, beyond the prying eye of today's satellite fleet. I have doubts about a sprawling network of transportation tunnels connecting far flung facilities, but a local network connecting underground command centers and emergency escape routes is quite plausible. 

Location of other known tunnels and underground facilities (UGF).

Whether underground sites exist in isolation or connect to larger tunnel networks beneath the government district and beyond, the sheer number of bomb shelters and other underground facilities alleged to exist makes the possibility of a successful "decapitation strike" by South Korea or the United States far more difficult and less likely to be effective, as such an attack relies on knowing where the target individuals are and killing them before they have time to escape to another location.

While I can't comment as to the quality of their construction, as a regime hyper-focused on survivability, North Korea probably has the greatest density of underground facilities and secret tunnels of any country on earth. 

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

--Jacob Bogle, July 24, 2023

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Bye, Bye Airports

Ever since Kim Jong Un came to power, North Korea's aviation infrastructure has undergone a series of changes, making it difficult to keep an up-to-date record of what airports and landing strips exist and where.

For this article, I want to review more recent changes and provide an update to the last AccessDPRK post that focused on the country's air force back in 2018.

KCNA photograph of Kim Jong Un inspecting aircraft at Kalma International Airport. 

Starting in 2014 Kim constructed several small new runways at his favorite palaces, then he went about improving the country's emergency landing strips. Before that, he oversaw the modernization of Pyongyang International Airport and then majorly expanded the Kalma Airport in Wonsan.

In recent years, however, the trend has reversed. Eight airports have been razed and another converted to other uses (at least for the time being).

Before and after of the Sinchon Palace runway (38.350777° 125.535155°).

Two of the palace runways were removed and replaced with horse riding tracks - Sinchon Palace Runway (built in 2015, replaced in 2019) and Wonsan Palace Runway (built in 2014, replaced in 2019). These horse riding tracks are for Kim Jong Un and his closest allies to use, but a number of recreational and military horse tracks have also been established elsewhere around the country. 

Before and after of the Wonsan Palace runway (39.184090° 127.397012°).

A third palace runway, at Myohyangsan (40.028515° 126.193115°), was demolished in 2021.

The Pyongyang VIP Heliport (39.049587° 125.805278°), built in 2015, is also now being removed and a new complex of buildings is being constructed in its place. The full purpose of the building complex isn't yet known.

Ariel photograph of the Jungphyong (Kyongsong) Vegetable Farm. Image: Rodong Sinmun, 2019.

Then there are the two airbases that have been demolished and replaced with large vegetable farms and greenhouses - Kyongsong Airbase (41.558215° 129.629752°) was demolished in 2018 and the Yonpo Airbase (39.790289° 127.535685°) was demolished in 2022. This has been the largest transfer of military property to the civilian sector that I am aware of, affecting slightly over 5 sq. km. 

Although the Kyongsong Airbase was demolished for the vegetable farm (named Jungphyong after a nearby village), the associated air force officer training school still exists (41.577780° 129.634636°). 

Overview of the Uiju Decontamination Facility (40.152699° 124.499932°).

COVID-19 has also impacted the availability of airbases to the North Korean air force. The Uiju Airbase, near Sinuiju on the border with China, was shut down in 2021 and some of its aircraft transferred to other sites. Then Uiju was fenced off and turned into a massive decontamination facility for goods coming into the country from China. 

Unlike Kyongsong and Yonpo, the runway and other facilities at Uiju still remain and it could be reconverted into an active airbase at any time. 

Kumgang, a county in Kangwon Province and where the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region is located, only had a small dirt runway that was routinely damaged by floods. In 2011-2012, to the north of town, a new kilometer-long paved runway was constructed, complete with aircraft parking revetments, service buildings, fuel storage, and hardened bunkers. It also goes by the name of Onjongdong-ni Airfield. 

Yet, in the imagery available, there's no clear evidence that the runway was ever used and the runway itself deteriorated over the years due to flooding. In 2021 several of the bunkers were demolished and the above-ground fuel tanks were removed. However, the runway's fate had already been sealed much earlier.

In 2018 the construction of a dam 1.7 km to the south began. The runway will eventually be covered by the reservoir once the dam's completed.  

Last of the removals, the small Kangdong Airbase (39.158318° 126.039708°) was demolished in 2019/2020 after being remodeled in 2015. It was home to KPAF Unit 2620, an all-female pilot unit. 

Sunchon Airbase underwent a recent expansion program.

In the midst of all of these removals, the Sunchon Airbase underwent an expansion beginning in 2021 and ending in 2023. The Center for Strategic and International Studies has tracked the progress of this project in detail (Part I, Part II, Part III), but it involved the addition of a 300-meter runway extension, the construction of 16 aircraft shelters, a new hardstand with space for 15 aircraft, and all surfaces have been repaved. 

With all of these changes, I think a current round-up of North Korea's aviation infrastructure is in order.

Excluding the now former airbases, there are 128 identified airports, landing strips, helipads, emergency runways, and UAV facilities. 

There are six primary airbases, 26 additional airbases with paved runways, 22 basic airfields (including grass landing strips), 30 emergency highway runways, 35 helicopter facilities, and seven UAV sites (which is a topic for another article). I also have the locations of 18 former and disused runways. That figure may change in the future as additional sites are discovered (such as demolished runways that existed during the Japanese occupation or Korean War).

With the exception of Uiju, no major airbases or runways have been affected by these changes. Practically speaking, only redundant airfields were demolished and whether or not Kim Jong Un has an on-site palace runway for his personal use makes little difference to the military.

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

--Jacob Bogle, 6/19/2023

Friday, May 19, 2023

Tee-up, North Korea's Golf Courses

Pyongyang Golf Club in 2015, prior to expansion program. (CC BY-SA 2.0, Uri Tours)

It is often erroneously reported that North Korea only has a single golf course. In fact, the country has three, but none are open to the general public. In this article, I'll examine each one and their current status.

The golf course (39.107805° 125.997879°) at the unofficially-named Samsok Mansion, along the banks of the Taedong River east of Pyongyang, was recently in the news because North Korea tested its Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile on April 13 from a launch pad mere meters away. 

The launch site is located on an island within the mansion complex that was fitted out with berms and ponds (for an unknown reason) prior to the missile test. 

The golf course is the nation's smallest and was added to the mansion grounds in 1986. It consists of three holes with six sand traps which are arranged along a semicircular course running for 600 meters.

The mansion isn't one of the main residences for the Kim family, but it is surrounded by a dozen smaller villas set within a wooded landscape that are all interconnected by a network of private lanes. This suggests that the mansion serves as the center of a rural 'getaway' for the country's elite and provides a slower pace of life for those visiting.

Pyongyang Golf Club after 2017-2019 renovations.

The most well-known golf course, however, is the Pyongyang Golf Club (38.897281° 125.437426°). Located on the banks of Lake Taesong, this 18-hole course is part of a larger 16.4 sq. km. pleasure ground for the country's elite. Opened in 1987, it has been reserved for use by the country's wealthy and foreigners. 

In 2011 it began hosting the DPRK Amateur Golf Open, but there hasn't been a new tournament since 2016 despite attempts by several tourist groups to resume the competition.

Pyongyang Golf Club after most new construction had been completed in 2019.

However, that doesn't mean activities at the golf course have ceased. In 2018 plans were released by the government detailing an expansion of the Club. This included the addition of nine new holes, additional lodgings and other facilities.

Construction actually started as early as April 2017, with early landfill activities, but it began in earnest in 2018 and by February 2019 at least 13 buildings were nearing completion. Changes at the site also involved the creation of a small pond (by building a barrier to enclose a smaller portion of the lake) and the installation of a helipad which was finished by Nov. 2019.

Close-range ballistic missiles being launched on March 10, 2023 at Taesong Lake. Image: KCNA

Approximately 1 km north of the original club house is a peninsula that was meant to hold five of the nine new golf holes. Those have yet to be constructed but the peninsula did serve as the site of CRBM missile launches in March 2023. 

North Korea's third golf course was created as part of the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region (38.712675° 128.213664°) beginning in 2005. The course and grounds cover approximately 143 hectares and contains several lodgings/hotels, a clubhouse, and access to the floating Hotel Haegumgang.

The tourist region had been established as a joint DPRK-ROK venture, but the effort didn't last long.

The golf course in 2021 after years of neglect. 

Following the killing of a South Korean tourist in 2008, tourism from South Korea was halted. The North Korean government began to run domestic tours to the region in 2010 but these tours didn't generate much interest. 

For all intents and purposes, the golf course was shuttered soon after. Both sides have floated ideas to restart joint tourism, but nothing has come of these talks. 

In 2019 Kim Jong Un announced his intentions to rebuild and modernize the golf course and the whole tourist zone (regardless of South Korea's desires, as the area was largely financed by South Korea). This included the demolition of a hotel next to the golf course, the planned destruction of the Hotel Haegumgang, and other sites throughout the 530 sq. km. region.

As of late 2022, no new construction is visible, and the golf course has been allowed to decay. 

The former Yanggakdo Golf Course as seen in May 2011, a few months before its removal.

There had been a fourth golf course (38.997397° 125.750226°), one that was located on Yanggakdo Island in the middle of Pyongyang, next to the famous (or infamous) Yanggakdo International Hotel. But it was removed in late 2011 to make room for another hotel; however, that hotel still hasn't been completed.

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, 5/18/2023

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