North Korean citizens who live near the country’s nuclear test site believe that they are suffering from radiation exposure and fear that the health of many others is in jeopardy, according to defectors who made their way south.
One former North Korean, Lee Jeong Hwa tells her story with a familiar twist. That North Korean citizens are paying the price for Kim Jong Un’s nuclear testing. Lee says she’s in constant pain.
But back home, things are much worse, she says.
“So many people died we began calling it ‘ghost disease,'” she said. “We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation.”
As Lee rubs her sore right leg in the office of SAND, a nongovernmental organization in Seoul that advocates human rights in North Korea, she recounted how she was caught trying to flee the country in 2003.
She eventually escaped in 2010 from her home in Kilju County, home of North Korea’s nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri.
During the last seven years Lee lived in the North, the leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, test-detonated two nuclear bombs near her home. Since Kim’s death in 2011, his son and heir, Kim Jong Un, has tested four more. He claimed the one tested in September was a hydrogen bomb.
While researchers and scientists in the south believe the defectors and their stories, they are suffering from a lack of data to completely document the cause of so many maladies. The South Koreans did detect a trace of radioactive Xenon after a North Korean test.
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