How North Korea’s Dangerous Nuclear Testing Is Killing Its Own People

Nuclear tests have always been known to have devastating effects on an environment. The radiation left over can cause areas of the earth to be uninhabitable for centuries. That’s no different for North Korea‘s nuclear test site, Punngye-ri.

Recently, defectors from North Korea told a South Korean newspaper about the devastation those tests are causing in the area. Follow us through the tragedy that is the North Korean nuclear program and how this is a crisis the world can’t afford.

6 nuclear bomb tests in the past 13 years have left lands ravaged

Kim Jong Un stands in celebration with a bunch of his generals in front of monitors on top of a mountain on a sunny day.

The Kim regime has tested six nuclear devices underground in Punngye-ri. | STR/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea has been ramping up its nuclear program over the last decade or so and has been detonating nuclear weapons inside its borders. All six of those tests occurred at the Punngye-ri nuclear test site. These tests were all underground tests. Often times, the civilians in the surrounding area weren’t even told that the tests were being conducted. Only the military personnel and their families were ever evacuated for a test. One refugee reports just seeing bodies floating down the river, and that was their only indication that something had happened.

Next: Why test so close to people?

North Korea’s nuclear test site is surrounded by 2.5 million people

Ri Chun-Hee as she announces the news that the country has successfully tested a hydrogen bomb

Most people didn’t even know this was going on. | Kim Won-Jin/AFP/Getty Images

The Punngye-ri nuclear test site is located in the north-eastern corner of North Korea. The location is very mountainous and located just south of Mount Mant’ap. This is thought to make an ideal test site because it was presumably believed to contain the radiation from the tests. Normally that would be the case, but little is known about the soil composition surrounding the tests and the precise depth; both are factors that could lead to radiation escaping and affecting the surrounding area.

Punngye-ri is also surrounded by about 2.5 million people, and many of them didn’t even know the site existed.

Next: The effects of testing nuclear devices

Effects on the land

A geiger counter detects large amounts of radiation.

Radiation can get into everything. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

All of the tests that have occurred at Punggye-ri have been underground. The thought is that if you test the bomb underground, it will contain the radiation. All of those detonations have left the ground extremely unstable. In fact, a tunnel collapsed in early October that ended up killing 100 workers, and then an additional 100 rescuers were killed in a tunnel collapse trying to get to those workers. That also suggests that the soil was not sufficiently dense to contain the radiation. The detonations were also deep enough to reach the water table it seems, and that helps the radiation get out to the people.

Next: The effect it will have on people is far worse.

Effects on the people

A child with cancer and a mask over his mouth and nose.

Decades later, children in the area surrounding Chernobyl are still suffering from high cancer rates. | Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images

Since the majority of the people in the region were not informed of the tests, there was very little done to protect them from the subsequent fallout from the blasts. A South Korean newspaper learned of the contamination from a group of defectors that had escaped the from the region. Reports of deformed babies from all the defectors paints a terrifying picture of what is happening up there. The defectors also report that around 80% of the crops are useless due to the contamination.

Next: There is no end in sight for this disaster.

The long-term costs are high

A wide view of north korean farm lands

Farms in the region may never be able to be used again. | Kim Jae Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea already suffers from extreme inequity and has long bouts of famine. This is bound to only exacerbate the situation. On top of that, it’s not something that they can fix. They can’t get that land back or clean that land up. The entire region is pretty much useless for the long-term future. It’s a tale we’ve already seen before.

Next: We’ve already seen what happens to places when they’re contaminated by radiation.

How will this revelation affect the region?

In this aerial view abandoned buildings stand near the main square in the ghost town of Pripyat not far from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Pripyat, which had a population of approximately 40,000 and housed the plant workers and their families, was evacuated and has been abandoned ever since the Chernobyl disaster. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Since it’s nearly impossible to see these effects for ourselves, all we can do is imagine. Unfortunately, we have already seen the long-term costs. Cancer rates will rise dramatically in the coming years. There will be a mass exodus from the region, although that came at the behest of the state and from what we know, there has not been an effort to move the more than 2 million people out of the region. There is also no telling which areas are truly affected by the radiation and who would require being relocated.

Next: This is sure to become a humanitarian crisis we’ve never seen before. 

We can’t absorb that much humanitarian aid

Kim Jong-Un North Korea

Kim Jong-Un has very little concern for his people and only acts to maintain power. | STR/AFP/Getty Images

Let’s say that North Korea or Donald Trump triggers what seems like an inevitable war and our side wins. We would inherit a few million people potentially in need of cancer treatments and a cleanup zone that is larger than any radiation site we’ve ever seen. We simply couldn’t handle that many refugees. As it is, we’re already having difficulty absorbing the refugee crisis across the world.

Conversely, if North Korea remains in power, there is a high likelihood it will just let the people die out and do nothing to care for the nuclear program.

Either way, these nuclear tests have left us in a serious global quagmire that doesn’t have a good ending for anyone.

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