Tests on North Korean defectors in September who lived near the secretive state’s Punggye-ri region have revealed dangerously high levels of radiation exposure. Radioactivity levels exceeding 250 millisieverts (mSv). Exposure to just 100 mSv a year is considered the threshold for cancer risk.
One 48-year-old woman, reports Chosun Ilbo, showed 1,386 mSv of radiation. That’s nearly 30 times the level allowed for workers in the nuclear industry. Tests on half of the defectors also revealed significant genetic damage.
Punggye-ri is the site of three nuclear weapons tests undertaken by the Kim regime between 2006 and 2013. Observers suspect the nuclear tests have contaminated the soil and ground water table in the area.
Kim Tae-woo, the former head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, told Chosun Ilbo: “Residents of Kilju county and other areas near the test site get their drinking water from underground springs emanating from Mt. Mantap. “I believe a lot of the exposure to radiation comes from the drinking water.”
Jeong Yong-hoon from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology added: “There is no way these levels of radiation exposure could happen under normal conditions. … The reason must be that a tunnel at the test site collapsed, so it is urgent to check how the site is being managed.”
Joo Han-gyu at Seoul National University said that “the radioactivity levels found in North Korean defectors is hundreds of times higher than normal and can only be the result of exposure to severe radiation.”
There are fears not only for the health of people still living in the region, but for South Koreans as well – water from springs in Punggye-ri eventually flows into the Sea of Japan, known in Korea as the East Sea. Korean cooking involves a good deal of fish, and a threat to fish stocks represents a significant danger to food supplies in general.
[Daily Star (UK)]