There are plenty of things at the top of Kim Jong Un’s agenda. Missile tests. Military parades. Gout treatment.
Nuclear safety? Not one of them. Unfortunately for Kim’s pitiable subjects, that’s taking a major toll on their already frail health.
According to NBC News, defectors from the North are describing a “ghost disease” that has spread near the nation’s nuclear test sites, almost certainly caused by radioactive fallout from nuclear tests and weapons development.
Lee Jeong Hwa, described as “(m)iddle-aged with an ashen gray complexion and deep-set dark brown eyes,” defected to the South in 2010 from the North Korean county of Kilju.
Kilju is where North Korea’s nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri, is located.
Punggye-ri played host to all six of North Korea’s nuclear tests — including one earlier this year which was powerful enough that it destabilized the underground complex and led to a tunnel collapse, killing at least 200 people.
At least at present, one assumes Punggye-ri isn’t going to be operational anytime in the near future.
That’s of little solace to the people of Kilju County, such as Lee Jeong Hwa.
“So many people died we began calling it ‘ghost disease,’” Lee said. “We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation.”
However, the plot thickens when you consider the complexities the conditions being suffered by Lee and other defectors.
“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,” NBC reported. “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.”
Does this mean that the health problems — the “ghost disease,” the reports of leukemia and other types of cancers — being reported by defectors from near the test site are all just a coincidence?
Seoul National University professor of nuclear engineering Suh Kune Yull doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think they’re lying,” Suh said. “We have to take their word, but I don’t have much reliable information.”
He added that researchers are going on a “total lack of data.”
However, the defectors are convinced the nuclear tests had something to do with it. Rhee Yeong Sil, another Kilju defector, says that “her family is sick, with headaches and vomiting, but no medicine helps.”
NBC added one final sobering note about Rhee’s experience in South Korea: “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.”
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