Defectors who cross the border from North Korea into South Korea risk their lives. If they leave any family members behind, those family members will most likely be put in jail. They may live the rest of their lives in one of the huge forced-labor camps in North Korea that already contain hundreds of thousands of people. North Korea has a policy of punishing three generations for any violation of the law made by a single family member.
If a North Korean defector is able to escape, there is one thing that some can never escape, which is contamination by radiation. Some defectors from North Korea are bringing radiation with them and others evidence of exposure to a deadly disease.
Fox News reported that South Korean health officials, who tested the North Korean refugees seeking asylum in South Korea, found that some had radiation exposure and some had antibodies for anthrax. The anthrax exposure may indicate North Korean efforts to create biological weapons of mass destruction.
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The defectors from North Korea who have evidence of radiation exposure lived near the Punggye-ri nuclear-weapons testing site. South Korean health ministry experts cannot be certain that the radiation exposure came from where these people used to live, however, this is highly suspected as the cause of the contamination. The Punggye-ri testing site is deteriorating. Many worry that there will be massive radiation contamination leaked from this site for many generations to come.
Medical researchers in South Korea tested 30 of the 114 defectors from North Korea who lived in the area near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site. They found four of them with abnormal chromosomes that are evidence of radiation exposure which is very rare. They would not normally be found to this extent in such a small sample of people, so researchers caution that the evidence is not conclusive. One of the subjects may have these chromosomal problems due to old age and cigarette smoking.
Even though the evidence about the source of radiation exposure is inconclusive, what is not disputed is the nuclear testing conducted by North Korea at the Punggye-ri site. On September 3, 2017, North Korea exploded a nuclear bomb underground at the site. This caused the equivalent of a massive earthquake of a 6.3 magnitude on the Richter scale. This was North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.
North Korea’s nuclear testing is a violation of international law, since all nuclear testing has been banned worldwide. The initial Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty was signed by England, the Soviet Union, and the United States on August 5, 1963. This was expanded into the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which has been international law since 1996.
North Korean continues its nuclear program and announced it will complete more tests in the future regardless of international law. South Korea will continue to automatically offer asylum to North Korean defectors and help them with any health issues they experience from radiation and anthrax exposure. That is the best that can be done about this problem at this moment for those that escape North Korea and bring some of the suffering with them.