Defectors from near North Korea nuclear site screened for radiation exposure

By Jennie Oh  |  Dec. 6, 2017 at 9:42 AM
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SEOUL, South Korea, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- North Korean defectors who lived near the nuclear test site of Punggyeri have received medical check-ups for possible radiation poisoning.

South Korea's unification ministry said Wednesday that 30 defectors completed their medical exams by the end of November, including screening for radiation exposure.

The results are being analyzed and will be released at the end of the year, a ministry spokesman said.

Following North Korea's largest-ever nuclear test on Sept. 3, there have been reports of a tunnel collapse and landslides in the Gilju County area where the North's main nuclear test site is located.

After six tests conducted at the Pyunggeri facility, sending out stronger shockwaves each time, experts have expressed concern that radioactive substances may have leaked to the surrounding area, affecting local residents.

A number of defectors in South Korea have cited cases of a "ghost disease" breaking out in the vicinity of the test site. They say symptoms included headaches, as well as loss of weight and sensory function.

"I recently heard through my mother that a family friend had passed away due to cancer. He lived in Kilju County in North Hamgyeong Province and was ill for quite some time," a 26-year-old defector who asked to be identified only by their surname Kim told UPI.

Risk of developing leukemia or other cancers increase significantly if exposed to radiation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It is difficult to confirm that radiation has caused widespread illness and even death in the area. Suh Kune Yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University, told NBC there isn't enough reliable information.

On Tuesday evening, another small earthquake of 2.8-magnitude rattled the area near the Punggyerri test site, some 28 miles northwest of Kilju County. Seoul officials said it was likely an aftershock following the September nuclear test.

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