Although it is just 10 kilometers from Hyesan, the capital of Ryanggang Province, no electricity has been supplied to Nojoong-ri since construction began on the Samsu Power Plant in 2004. In fact, there are no longer any transmission cables connected to the village at all.
The North Korean authorities, in preparation for the construction of the power plant in 2002, put in place relocation plans for the residents of the Unchong River Basin in areas they designated as “probable watersheds” for the lake which would form behind the proposed dam. District Four of Nojoong-ri was one of those areas, and as a result had all of its power cables removed.
However, in a follow-up plan completed right before groundbreaking on the project in 2004, the water storage capacity of the Samsu Power Plant was reduced on account of analysis that cautioned against over-filling the reservoir. This resulted in District Four of Nojoong-ri being re-designated as outside the flood zone, but none of the services were resumed, including the provision of electricity
After a year of living without power, the residents, who were still waiting to be assigned new homes, eventually pleaded their case to have the village’s power lines restored to the “Standing Committee on Flooding”, a special organ of government in charge of the relocation of flood-area residents. However, the response was that they were ineligible for aid because their village was not in a flood zone. The villagers then filed petitions with the Party at Hyesan City and provincial level, but to no avail. They were only to hear the same repeated response, “We were not the ones who removed the power lines.”
If electricity were to be provided to the area, quite a few power lines would need to be installed. But the only place where electricity for the village could be obtained is “Military Supplies Factory No. 95”, located four kilometers from the village on the other side of a hill. The 50-megawatt Samsu Power Plant stands adjacent to the village, but the electricity generated there is supplied exclusively to “Kim Jong Il Birthplace Heritage”, otherwise known as the “Baekdu Hideout”, in Samjiyeon. At one point there was talk of the residents putting their money together to provide for their own power cables, but the plan was prohibitively expensive.
Thus, the residents of this part of Nojoong-ri have been living without electricity for nearly seven years. They depend entirely on candlelight and firewood as they scrape a living off potato farming and alluvial mining.
“It is hard to say that it is even a place where people should live. People from as far away as South Pyongan and North Hamkyung come here to mine alluvial gold, but are shocked to find the state that the village is in,” according to an anonymous Yangkang Province source.
Of course, with the original designation came many more changes, including work and schooling. The one-way commute that the village’s men take every morning is seven to eight kilometers, while the women cannot easily reach the market to sell their produce. Children are also suffering the consequences; having to walk 15 kilometers a day to attend Nojoong-ri Middle School has led to a rising number of student dropouts.