Deserters from North Korea say nuclear tests have devastated their health –

Deserters from North Korea say nuclear tests have devastated their health


Seoul, South Korea – Deserters living near North Korea's nuclear testing site say they believe they are exposed to radiation and fear for the health of family members still living there.

With a height of approximately 5 feet, Lee Jeong Hwa walks with a slight limp. Middle-aged, with a gray-gray complexion and deep dark brown eyes, Lee says he feels constant pain.

But at home, things are much worse, she says.

"So many people died that we started calling it 'ghost disease'," he said. "We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate poorly, now we know what the radiation was."

While Lee rubs his aching right leg in the office of SAND, a non-governmental organization in Seoul that defends human rights in North Korea, he recounted how he was caught trying to flee the country in 2003.

He finally escaped in 2010 from his home in Kilju County, site of North Korea's nuclear testing site, Punggye-ri.

For the past seven years, Lee lived in the north, the leader of the time, Kim Jong Il, detonated two nuclear bombs near his home, since Kim's death in 2011, his son and The heir, Kim Jong Un, has tested four more, saying that the one tested in September was a hydrogen bomb.

According to the World Health Organization, radiation can affect the functioning of tissues and organs, depending on the level of exposic In lower doses, he says, there is a long-term risk of cancer.

Lee and other defectors are inflexible that these tests have had a detrimental effect on their health. The scientific evidence and the opinion of the experts, however, are not so conclusive.

The Unification Ministry of South Korea has been testing Lee and 29 other Kilju deserters for radiation contamination. Lee told NBC News that the results of his tests have returned, and they are clean.

Related: They fled North Korea but are paying a high price

In addition to the testimony of Lee and others, it is difficult to verify that radiation is the cause of generalized diseases, such as leukemia . and other cancers, which the defectors say have been destroying Kilju.

Suh Kune-yull, professor of nuclear engineering at the National University of Seoul (SNU), says the reality is that researchers suffer from a "total lack of data".

"I do not think they're lying," says Kune-yull about the defectors. "We have to take his word, but I do not have much reliable information."