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Playing a role in the peace campaign

A bridge is being built between one of the world's most isolated countries and the United States -- with wind power. This month, an American delegation is travelling to North Korea to install a small wind turbine that will provide, among other things, much needed refrigeration for a remote health centre. North Korea, mired in a severe famine, is desperate for clean, safe sources of energy. The small isolated country is plagued by acid rain, oil pollution and severe deforestation. Its population is some 22 million.

The US team behind the one turbine demonstration project, which has the blessing of the American government, is from the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development. The small turbine, rated at less than 10 kW, was obtained from Lake Michigan Wind and Sun. Some of the parts were already en route to North Korea last month, says Steve Freidkin of Nautilus, based in the university town of Berkeley, California. The tower may be built locally, he adds. At the Korean end, the project is being backed by the Korean Anti-Nuclear Peace Committee. Funding for the project is from an American foundation.

Three to four people from Nautilus were travelling to North Korea this month to install the turbine in a flood ravaged village on the coastal plain southwest of Pyongyang. "The windmill solution seems particularly good in this situation," Freidkin says, the resource being good and the village remote. "Our hope is that this will be the first step to more co-operation in renewable energy in the future."

Government approved

The shipping of the wind turbine follows the first technical training mission approved of by the governments of both the US and North Korea. Last autumn a delegation of three engineers and the leader of a Korean anti-nuclear group visited the US to learn about wind and solar power. In 1994 North Korea had agreed to halt its nuclear program, both for weapons and for generating power, in exchange for light water reactors from the West to provide much needed electricity.

The North Koreans toured wind and solar plants in California, visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado and the Department of Energy in Washington DC. Team members also dropped in to the World Bank, a visit that helped lead to the bank's first ever mission to Pyongyang. Before returning to North Korea, the delegation attended a hands-on workshop at Nautilus.

"The famine is an important opportunity for both sides -- North and South Korea and the US -- to move ahead," says Peter Hayes of Nautilus, an Australian and author of "Pacific Powder-keg: American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea." One such opening is bringing renewable energy to North Korea. The project is also an indication that North Korea is acknowledging its national concerns and accepting its involvement with the rest of the world, says Robert Scalapino, political science professor at the University of California. "Policy shift is taking place right before our eyes," he says.

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