Samsu Power Plant fails to meet demand, frustrating local residents

Satellite imagery of Samsu County, location of Samsu Power Plant. Image: Google Earth

The Samsu Power Plant, a hydroelectric power station located in Ryanggang Province, is failing to provide sufficient levels of electricity to nearby areas, leading to frustration among local residents, sources in North Korea report.

Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Address placed an emphasis on hydroelectric power to resolve the country’s chronic electricity issues, but parts of the existing hydroelectric infrastructure are failing to perform. The outcome is fomenting concerns over whether the construction of new hydroelectric power plants will resolve the fundamental issues facing North Korea’s lack of electricity.

“The Samsu Power Plant has cracks where water is flowing out, and the plant cannot produce enough electricity,” said a Ryanggang Province-based source on Monday. “The construction of the power plant left almost the entire farming area in Samsu County submerged in water and locals were forcibly relocated to other areas. Residents are unhappy because the power plant isn’t producing much electricity.”

The power plant was built in 2007, but operations were halted in 2014 due to leaks in the dam. Repairs were made but the leaks are still a common occurrence five years later, while the plant is failing to produce much electricity at all.

Hyesan and the greater Ryanggang Province area continuously face electricity supply disruptions, which impact local companies and factories in the area.

There’s not much electricity, so people are calling on the designers and builders of the dam to be punished via legal action,” said a separate source in Ryanggang Province.

“Locals are also showing dissent toward plans to build another mid-sized power plant in the area due to the failure of the Samsu Power Plant.”

The Samsu Power Plant has problems with its poor construction, but its location is also deemed by some to be suboptimal for producing hydroelectricity.

“The Ryanggang Province area is so cold in winter that the water freezes and this causes issues for electricity production at the dam,” said a defector from Ryanggang Province. “There’s not much rain either, so it’s doubtful whether the dam can produce much electricity, particularly considering the amount of money that was invested in it.”

Samsu County, which is located in Hyesan on the Kaema Plateau, is renowned for its lack of rain. Rainfall in December 2018 reached just 9.8 mm, while average temperatures dropped to -13 degrees Celsius (with the lowest recorded being -21.4 degrees and the highest being 2.2 degrees).  

Kim Jong Un on site visit to Orangchon Power Plant in July 2018. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Meanwhile, the Orangchon Power Plant mentioned in Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Address is being constructed with massive investments in human and material resources, and is being touted by the regime as a panacea to North Korea’s electricity problems.

Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) organ Rodong Sinmun reported on January 23 that party officials and workers from North Hamgyong Province along with officials from the Provincial Party Committee’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, Chongjin Metal Construction Cooperative Enterprise, as well as workers from the Musan Mining Construction Enterprise, Eunjung Construction Enterprise, Kimchaek Construction Enterprise, and other workplaces are participating in the construction of the new power plant.

“Officials from provincial organizations like the Provincial Party Committee and Provincial People’s Committee have gone to the construction site to lead the laborers in the construction,” the article says. “Officials from all levels of the state are actively supporting the construction physically and spiritually.”

Kim Jong Un criticized officials for failing to finish the construction of the Orangchon Power Plant over the past 30 years since construction began in 1981 under Kim Il Sung’s orders. He then ordered measures be taken to complete the project.

Mun Dong Hui
Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time reporters and covers North Korean technology and human rights issues, including the country's political prison camp system. Mun has a M.A. in Sociology from Hanyang University and a B.A. in Mathematics from Jeonbuk National University. He can be reached at