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Some N.K. defectors who lived near nuke test site show possible radiation exposure: Seoul

2017/12/27 11:00

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SEOUL, Dec. 27 (Yonhap) -- Some North Korean defectors, who had lived near the North's nuclear test site, show signs of suspected radiation exposure in the latest medical checkups, but it is hard to confirm that nuclear tests affected them, the unification ministry said Wednesday.

Since October, the ministry has conducted nuclear radiation leak tests and health checkups on 30 refugees who previously lived in Kilju County, near North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear site. The North has conducted all of its six nuclear tests at the site located in the country's northeastern province.

Seoul selected the defectors who expressed hope to undergo the tests among 114 refugees who came from the county after North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006. All of the examinees came to the South before the North's fourth nuke test in January 2016.

The ministry said that chromosome examinations showed that four defectors may have been exposed to radiation, but it cannot be ruled out that other factors such as age and smoking could have affected the result.

The government said that there were no cases of meaningful results appearing in urine and other tests.

Experts expressed concerns that the series of nuclear tests may have caused radioactive substances to leak into nearby areas, possibly putting residents' health at risk. Exposure to radiation could raise the risk of developing leukemia and other types of cancer.

The ministry admitted that the latest medical tests have a limitation, given the small sampling and a lack of information. Also a long time has passed since the examinees were possibly exposed to radiation.

The government said that it plans to advise North Korean defectors to receive heath checkups at regular intervals. It will also carry out further radiation tests on more refugees.