Lee Jeong-hwa claims that exposure to radiation is killing people who live in Kilju – the county where Kim’s testing site, Punggye-ri, is based.
‘So many people died we began calling it “ghost disease”,’ she said. ‘We thought we were dying because we were poor and ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation.’
According to the WHO, exposure to radiation can harm the functioning of the body’s tissues and organs. Even lower doses of radiation can significantly increase the long-term risk of a person developing cancer. Kim Jong-un has tested four more nuclear bombs.
Lee eventually managed to escape from her home in Kilju County in 2010, and is now living in the South Korean capital Seoul.
In the seven years leading up to her escape, the then-leader Kim Jong-il test-detonated two nuclear bombs near her home.
Since his death in 2011, his son and heir Kim Jong-un has tested four more. The one in September, he claimed, was a hydrogen bomb. However Lee and Rhee Yeong-sil, another defector, said that they had no idea North Korea was testing nuclear devices.
Instead, they just ignored the tremors – and it was only after they fled the country that they discovered the truth. Kim Jong Un with what the North Korean government calls the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile
A photo was released by the North Korean government, claiming to show people in Pyongyang cheering as they watch news broadcasts announcing Kim Jong-un’s order to test-fire the Hwasong-15 on November 29 Rhee, who is in her 60s, lived just a few miles from Punggye-ri before defecting in 2013. She told NBC that her neighbor gave birth to a baby with deformities. Passengers told they’re ‘lucky to be alive’ after Thomas Cook plane engine exploded ‘We couldn’t determine the gender of the baby because it didn’t have any genitals,’ Rhee said. ‘In North Korea, deformed babies are usually killed – so the parents killed the baby.’
But even though Lee and other defectors now believe the tests are behind the ‘ghost disease’, health checks for radiation exposure have come back negative. So aside from their testimony, it’s difficult for South Korean scientists to verify for certain that radiation is the cause of North Koreans’ health problems. Cooperative farm workers in Kilju County plant rice in June 2002 – this is where people are dying of ‘ghost disease’
Defectors had no idea North Korea was testing nuclear devices until they escaped the country
Plus, some of Lee and Rhee’s claims about exposure date back to the 1980s and 1990s – well before the first nuclear test in 2006. Divers find body of missing Mariah Woods, 3, after mum’s boyfriend is charged
This has raised questions about whether something other than nuclear testing could have contaminated the environment and made so many people ill. Suh Kune-yull, a professor of nuclear engineering at Seoul National University (SNU), blamed a ‘total lack of data’ for the confusion. ‘I don’t think they’re lying,’ Kune-yull said. ‘We have to take their word, but I don’t have much reliable information.’