SEOUL, South Korea — Defectors who lived near North Korea’s nuclear testing site say they believe they are suffering from exposure to radiation and fear for the health of family members still living there.
Standing about 5 feet tall, Lee Jeong Hwa walks with a slight limp. Middle-aged with an ashen gray complexion and deep-set dark brown eyes, 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.
According to the World Health Organization, radiation can impair the functioning of tissues and organs, depending on the level of exposure. At lower doses, it says, there’s a long-term risk of cancer.
Lee and other defectors are adamant these tests have had a detrimental effect on their health. The scientific evidence and expert opinion, however, is not so conclusive.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification has been testing Lee and 29 other defectors from Kilju for radiation contamination. Lee told NBC News that her test results have already come back — and they’re clean.
And aside from the testimony of Lee and others, it’s hard to verify radiation as the cause of the widespread illnesses, such as leukemia and other cancers, that defectors say have been ravaging Kilju.
Suh Kune-yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University (SNU), says the reality is that researchers are suffering from a “total lack of data.”
“I don’t think they’re lying,” Kune-yull says of the defectors. “We have to take their word, but I don’t have much reliable information.”
A spokesman for the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety told NBC News it’s “assumed” that exposure to radioactive material from the underground test site is excessive, but it’s difficult to confirm.
Both Lee and Rhee Yeong Sil, another defector at the SAND office, say for years they had no idea North Korea was testing nuclear devices. They ignored the tremors and only discovered the truth after fleeing their homeland.
Rhee, who is in her 60s and defected in 2013, says that she lived just a few miles from the Punggye-ri test site, and that her neighbor gave birth to a deformed baby.
“We couldn’t determine the gender of the baby, because it didn’t have any genitals,” Rhee says. “In North Korea, deformed babies are usually killed. So the parents killed the baby.”
Some of Rhee and Lee’s claims of radiation exposure date to the 1990s and even the 1980s, raising questions about whether something other than a nuclear test could have contaminated the environment and made people sick.
While the country’s first nuclear test wasn’t until 2006, the defectors tell stories of trout dying in the mountain streams and the area’s prized pine mushrooms disappearing long before then.
The president of SAND, Choi Kyung Hui, who is also a defector but not from Kilju, suggested military activity at Punggye-ri in the years leading up to the tests could explain contamination in the area.
But Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, a scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, has doubts that radiation damaged the environment and residents’ health.
He said that if any radioactive material had leaked, even from a reported tunnel collapse this month following the sixth test, powerful sensors in the region that “sniff” the atmosphere would have detected it. The same goes for previous tests, he said.
Days after the sixth test, the South Korean government announced it had detected trace amounts of radioactive xenon, though it never said conclusively where it came from.
Ferenc says it’s “very, very unlikely” that it came from the Punggye-ri site. He’s also skeptical of groundwater contamination. Testing near water-saturated rock, he says, could build up steam that vents contaminants into the air. That, he says, is in no one’s interest.
Both Lee and Rhee keep in touch with their families when they can, using cellphones smuggled into North Korea from China.
Rhee says her family is sick, with headaches and vomiting, but no medicine helps. She’s surprised that in her new home, even the rights of animals are protected. But back in North Korea, she says, the health of her people is ignored.
The House passed legislation to permit concealed carry license holders to conceal a handgun in other states, the first time Congress has taken action on a gun bill since President Donald Trump was sworn into office. The “Concealed Carry Reciprocity ... Read More
Under federal law, any non-U.S. citizen is an alien. Aliens who have entered the United States without permission, or who have violated the terms of their admission, are identified under the law as illegal aliens. That is a fact, not ... Read More
A Swiss maker of hamburger buns for McDonald’s Corp. said it’s struggling to run a Chicago bakery after it lost a third of its workers in a clampdown on 800 immigrants without sufficient documentation. About 35 percent of the workers at Cloverhill Bakery had to ... Read More
National reciprocity for concealed carry passed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday is expected to receive a floor vote before the end of the year. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 was introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC) on January 3, 2017. It ... Read More
The airport on Indonesia’s major tourist island of Bali has temporarily reopened after a three-day shutdown, even as an erupting volcano continues to spew ash, blocking flight paths and prompting evacuation calls. Shortly after officials had extended closure of the ... Read More
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House unveiled a Christmas Trailer featuring the First Lady, that seems to shout Oh Joyous Season, as Trump makes it clear that Christmas is Back in America. Ballerinas leaping to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” ... Read More
China unveils 19,030mph HYPERSONIC scattergun nuke to strike ‘ANYWHERE in world’ China will in the first half of next year becapable of deploying the longest-range nuclear missiles in the world, with a range of up to 15,000km. Major General Xu ... Read More
The U.S. Navy’s experimental rail gun is getting new upgrades to make it fire more powerful shots, and fire them faster. It’s the latest bit of progress on this still-landlocked weapon, but when and where it actually would be installed ... Read More
The Origins of Taps The origins of “Taps,” the distinctive bugle melody played at U.S. military funerals and memorials and as a lights-out signal to soldiers at night, date back to the American Civil War. In July 1862, U.S. General ... Read More
Oh this is interesting. John Conyers in the AG Sessions testimony before the Judiciary Committee is attempting to twist the hearing to imply that in looking into Clinton crimes, that the President and Justice Department are wielding their power to ... Read More
Red Skelton – What the Pledge means to ME Minute Script: In 1969, Red Skelton gave his personal view of the Pledge of Allegiance. The statement he made at the end, I think, tells it all.Red Skelton, one of America’s ... Read More
The below video is an moving history of our National Anthem. There are times in life where the task at hand is bigger that one mans life. And there is no more power or honor in that, than when one see’s ... Read More
At a time when the war on religion seems more open than ever. Where New York’s anti conservative Governor Andrew Cuomo says we should leave the the prayers for Texas shooting victims to Priests and Rabbi’s, East Catholic High Schools ... Read More
On April 27th, 1961, Then President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to newspapers and publishers at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, in New York City While this speech has been quoted out of context for a variety of purposes, it’s an ... Read More
A University of Nevada, Reno police officer is under fire for what some have called an insensitive or racist costume. Antonio Gutierrez, pictured above apparently attended a Halloween Party dressed as beleaguered NFL Quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, wearing a 49’ers jersey, a ... Read More
Amazingly you can’t make this stuff up. While broadcasting a live piece on Trumps boarder wall, illegal immigrants ride up on horseback and jump the fence! Like this:Like Loading... Related ... Read More
Delta airline passengers were informed that there was an deceased American Soldier on board, being accompanied home by his best friend also a soldier in uniform. When the passengers decide to sing the National Anthem to honor the fallen soldier ... Read More
If you don’t understand Nationalist. Think of it this way. You can be the United States of America, or you can be the United States of Earth, but if you are the United States of Earth, UN Rules apply, and ... Read More
Your HT (Handie Talkie) is going to be your first important communications purchase. Forget about regular walkie talkies or FRS radios, they are restricted to transmitting on a half a watt only. You can also get paired MURS radios, but ... Read More
What is happening today in the EU may be worse than watching an iron curtain fall across Eastern Europe. The one thing that has made Western Europe great, was its long rich history, culture and rule of law. What we ... Read More
Antifa – The Undoing of the Left FROG IN BOILING WATER It has been said that the state of America is analogous to the frog in boiling water story. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into ... Read More
Components of the Militia When asked what the Militia was, George Mason, one of the Framers of the U.S. Constitution, said, “Who are the Militia? They consist now of the whole people, except for a few public officers.” Yet we ... Read More
While there may be a lot of discussion and choices on that first home defense gun, invariably the discussion will circle back around to the good old 12ga shotgun. A shotgun, is one of the most versatile weapons in your ... Read More
Just in time inventory is a business model used by almost every retailer these days. Fuel, automobile parts, medicines, and grocery stores operate on a just in time inventory system. What this means is that in order to keep costs down, they ... Read More
General thoughts on First Aid and Survival in the back country Wilderness is described as any area in which a person may be an hour or more from any modern conveniences, or medical attention. Wilderness First Aid In a typical ... Read More
The EMS subspecialty of tactical medicine and the role of the tactical medic is not a new concept. Bringing medical intervention to the arena of battle predates Napoleon’s directive for having an ambulance near the front lines in the event he himself was ... Read More