North Korea’s multiple underground nuclear tests have turned part of the country into a toxic wasteland, according to a report by South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper published on Monday.
The report is predicated upon the witness testimony of 21 defectors given to the Research Association of Vision of North Korea. The defectors hail from the country’s mountainous North Hamgyoung province, where the underground nuclear site is located and has been active since 2006.
Defectors claim that 80 percent of trees planted near the test site die, that underground wells have been evaporated and that babies in the region are born with birth defects at alarming rates.
“I heard from a relative in Kilju that deformed babies were born in hospitals there,” one defector said.
The nuclear tests, which have been known to cause seismic shifts and small earthquakes, are conducted without warning to the residents in the area, the defectors claim.
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“During the first nuclear test [in October 2006] and the second one [in May 2009], only family members of soldiers were evacuated to underground shafts,” a defector said. “Ordinary people were completely unaware of the tests.”
The area’s vegetation has been severely affected by the nuclear tests. Defectors claim that a clear majority of the trees planted near the test site do not reach maturity. Locals also report that some of the area’s staple foods have completely disappeared.
“Trout and pine mushrooms were sent to senior party officials as gifts in the 1980s, but they disappeared after the first nuclear test in 2006,” a defector testified.
Locals are also reportedly barred from receiving medical treatment in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea.
Chosun Ilbo’s report comes as President Donald Trump arrived in South Korea as part of his Asian tour.
Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are high. Most recently, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that a ground invasion would be the only way to eliminate Kim Jong Un’s nuclear arsenal, raising concerns from military experts. The comments came soon after Pyongyang launched a missile test directly over Japan. During a joint press conference with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, Trump said Japan could have shot the missile “out of the sky” if it had purchased American military weaponry capable of doing so.