Tens of thousands of North Koreans and people in South Korea, Japan and China could be exposed to radioactive materials spread through groundwater from an underground nuclear test site, a Seoul-based human rights group said in a report on Tuesday. North Korea secretly conducted six tests of nuclear weapons at the Punggye-ri site in the mountainous North Hamgyong Province between 2006 and 2017, according to the U.S. and South Korean governments, Reuters reports:
The study by the Transitional Justice Working Group said radioactive materials could have spread across eight cities and counties near the site, where more than 1 million North Koreans live, and where groundwater is used in everyday lives including drinking. It also said that neighboring South Korea, China and Japan might be at risk due partly to agricultural and fisheries products smuggled from the North.
“The populations in neighboring countries such as South Korea, China and Japan are also exposed to the radioactive risk from the contaminated agricultural and marine products imported from North Korea,” the report said.
“This report is significant in showing that North Korea’s nuclear tests could threaten the right to life and health of not only the North Korean people, but also of those in South Korea and other neighbouring countries,” said Hubert Young-hwan Lee, the group’s chief and a co-author.
The group, formed in 2014, worked with nuclear and medical experts and defectors and used open source intelligence and publicly available government and U.N. reports for the study, which was backed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a non-profit corporation funded by the U.S. Congress, U.S. News adds.