In exchange for shutting down its main Yongbyon nuclear site, the 6 parties have agreed to provide the North with 50,000 tons of "heavy fuel oil" (HFO). I'm guessing that like most folks, I read this, nodded, and thought "Oil=energy. Oil not nuclear. Oil substitute for nuclear energy. Spring training starts soon. I hate the Yankees." (A window into my brain...just being honest.)
Well, it turns out that HFO is:
- The cheapest grade of oil available
- Full of carbon residue, sulfur, and other pollutants (HFO is literally the sludge left over after other petroleum products are made)
- Incredibly inefficient despite being full of potential energy (it's extremely difficult to use & process)
- So high in sulfur that it actually degrades the Soviet-era power plants in the DPRK that are processing it (they're designed to process coal)
It's a favorite of donors, apparently, because it's extremely difficult to turn HFO into just about any other product (for example military use petroleum products).
The Slate post notes that, based on historical figures for energy use in the DPRK, the initial shipment of 50,000 gallons of HFO might account for less than one quarter of one percent of the DPRK's energy needs.
This brings me to my question. That being the case, can we really say the HFO shipment was about North Korea's energy needs? Does this imply it might be mostly symbolic in nature? So...$13.4 million just to get the ball rolling. (And that doesn't include weeks of hotel expenses at the St. Regis in Beijing...which is pretty frickin' sweet, let me tell ya.) Worth it? Not that I'm a proponent of the "Kim as mafia boss" view, but when put in this light, it seems the shoe kind of fits here.
Note: Work on my paper has stopped. In light of the above, I'm now going nuclear. If Kim can get $13 big ones just to get the ball rolling, think I can get $5 mill to give 'em up completely? Cross your fingers. If so, the kimchi's on me.