At least four North Korean defectors have shown signs of radiation exposure, South Korean officials said Wednesday, but it is unclear whether the exposure is due to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, The New York Times reported.
The four defectors are among 30 who arrived in South Korea from Kilju, a county in northeastern North Korea where Pyongyang has conducted all six of its nuclear tests in tunnels deep beneath the mountains of Punggye-ri.
They were exposed to radiation between May 2009 and January 2013, and all defected to the South before the most recent test, a researcher at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, which carried out the examinations, told reporters.
South Korea in October began conducting medical exams on defectors from Kilju after news reports claimed some residents had gotten sick from radiation exposure. Thirty defectors from the same region tested earlier this month were reported to be clean of radiation, according to a NBC News.
Radiation can impair the functioning of tissues and organs, according to the World Health Organization. At lower doses, there is a long-term risk of cancer.
Relations between the U.S. and North Korea have intensified over the past year as Pyongyang refuses to give up its nuclear weapons. The U.N. Security Council last Friday unanimously voted to impose new sanctions on the North in response to its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, a move North Korea called an act of war, tantamount to a complete economic blockade.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.
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