North Koreans step up scrap metal collection to support struggling steel works — Radio Free Asia

North Korea has ordered its people to donate large amounts of scrap metal in the new year to help the country’s steel industry, which is struggling due to shortages of fuel, electricity and raw materials, sources in the country told Radio Free Asia.

The scrap is in addition to an existing monthly quota, a resident of the northeastern province of North Hamgyong told RFA’s Korean service on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“On January 2, the first working day of the new year, employees in all factories and companies had to come to work with sledges and carts filled with all the scrap they collected,” the source said, adding that the government has recently pushed the support for the metalworking sector in its propaganda message.

“On New Year’s Day I wasn’t able to rest properly because I was out scouring every corner of the city trying to gather the necessary 10 kilos [22 pounds] of scrap. This is in addition to our monthly scrapping task,” the source said.

Every North Korean of elementary school age or older must collect between eight and 15 kilograms of scrap every month. The collected metal is donated to the state and distributed to steel mills across the country.

“North Hamgyong Province is home to the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex – the largest steel plant in the country – and other steelmaking facilities,” the source said, “But the province is unable to meet the demand for steel products.”

The source cited lack of electricity and scrap metal as the main obstacles to meeting demand.

Steel is produced at the Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 26, 2018. Credit: KCNA via Reuters

A resident of the city of Chongjin, where Kim Chaek Steel is located, told RFA that the plant can only run intermittently due to a lack of electricity and fuel.

“Smoke only comes out of the chimney of the steel mill a few days a year,” he said on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Despite the facility being idle most days, the Chongjin resident said state media has reported that Kim Chaek is meeting production needs and building a new energy-saving oxygen thermal furnace.

“The New Year outlook for Kim Chaek Steel is very bleak,” he said.

Key to the plant’s performance is its supply of coke, a coal-based fuel needed in the steel-smelting process.

Companies in China have previously supplied coke to North Korean steel mills on credit, but are increasingly reluctant to do so as the mills have failed to repay their debts, according to the Chongjin resident.

“A few years ago, a manager of [Kim Chaek] the steel mill was on a business trip to China to try to solve the coke problem. That [Chinese] company detained him and said they would not release him before [the mill] repaid what it had borrowed,” he said. “The North Korean authorities were forced to repay part of the outstanding debt.”

The price of coke is also rising, so the new oxygen-thermal furnace is intended to help solve the problem, according to the Chongjin-based source. But he said it was “not a very smart solution” because this method requires even more electricity to produce the necessary oxygen in the process, and North Korea suffers from nationwide power shortages.

Translated by Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong


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