North Korea’s nuclear test site is turning the area into a “wasteland” where deformed babies are being born and 80 percent of vegetation dies off due to nuclear radiation, nearly two dozen defectors told South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
The Research Association of Vision of North Korea interviewed 21 North Korean defectors who lived in Kilju, a nearby town north of the Punngye-ri nuclear test site where six tests have been conducted, and said babies were reportedly being born with birth defects and residents feared radiation contamination because of the high mortality rate for any form of life, Fox News reported.
“I heard from a relative in Kilju that deformed babies were born in hospitals there,” one defector said, according to the newspaper.
Another, referring to Kim Jong-un’s latest nuclear test, added: “I spoke on the phone with family members I left behind there and they told me that all of the underground wells dried up after the sixth nuclear test.”
The defectors said drinking water in the town streamed down from Mount Montap, where the nuclear tests were reportedly conducted underground. They added authorities left residents in the area to fend for themselves and provided no warning prior to the detonations or protections after. A defector who fled North Korea in 2010 recalled how only soldiers and their family members were evacuated before two tests were conducted.
“During the first nuclear test [October 2006] and second one [May 2009], only family members of soldiers were evacuated to underground shafts. Ordinary people were completely unaware of the tests,” the defector said.
“I personally saw corpses floating down the river with their limbs severed,” the defector said, adding that local residents were also ordered to dig “deep holes for those tests.”
Daily Mail reports that the nuclear trials are also having an impact on the environment in the area, one former local claimed.
Specialties like trout and pine mushrooms ‘disappeared’ after the first test in 2006, he claimed, with another defector claiming: ‘If you plant trees in the mountains there, 80 percent of them die. You can blame it on poor planting, but the number of trees that die is higher than in other mountains.’
The claims come after it was reported that more than 200 people were killed when a tunnel caved in at Punggye-ri after its latest detonation.
A tunnel collapsed in early September, days after North Korea conducted its sixth and largest underground nuclear test on September 3, TV Asahi said, quoting unnamed North Korean sources.
Some 100 workers were involved in an initial collapse. Another cave-in occurred during rescue operations, leaving at least 200 people feared dead in total, the Japanese broadcaster said.
The accident was triggered by the test, TV Asahi added.
Experts have warned that the underground tests could cause the mountain to collapse and leak radiation into the atmosphere near China’s border.
Officials also appear to be intent on keeping a lid on accounts from Kilju county, with anyone caught boarding trains with samples of soil, water or leaves reportedly being arrested and sent to prison camps, The Telegraph reports.
Meanwhile, 38 North, a North Korea monitoring site operated out of Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, reported at the weekend that commercial satellite imagery of Punggye-ri had shown significant movements near the West Portal, a yet unused tunnel complex.