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North Korean residents who live near their government's underground nuclear weapons testing facilities, are seeing serious effects of radiation poisoning, defectors from that region report.
There is currently no scientific evidence to support their claims because there are only a handful of defectors and North Korea is still considered an outsider. NBC News was able to locate and sit down with a defector who escaped in 2010, saying they did not doubt the reports.
"So many people died we began calling it 'ghost disease,'" Lee Jeong Hwa told NBC. "We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation."
Another defector from the nuclear testing area, Rhee Yeong Sil, said before she left in 2013, she saw her neighbor give birth to a baby with large birth defects.
"We couldn't determine the gender of the baby, because it didn't have any genitals," Rhee said. "In North Korea, deformed babies are usually killed. So the parents killed the baby."
Since leaving North Korea, Sil reports that she is chronically ill with headaches and vomiting.
South Korean newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, reported last month that close to two dozen defectors claimed that the area surrounding Punggye-ri is turning into a “wasteland where vegetation is dying and babies are born with deformities,” FOX reports.
The defectors said drinking water in the area came from Mount Mantap, where nuclear tests are occasionally conducted underground.
It’s “assumed” that cancer, infections, and other diseases found in North Korean defectors are due to nuclear testing, but the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety told FOX that it’s hard to confirm.
According to the World Health Organization, radiation can stunt the functioning of tissues and organs in the body, depending on the level of exposure. At lower doses, it says, there’s a long-term risk of cancer.