North Koreans who live near their government's underground nuclear weapons testing location are suffering serious effects of radiation poisoning, defectors from that region report. While there is almost no scientific evidence available to support their claims — because defectors are few and North Korea remains mostly closed to outsiders — with only one exception experts interviewed by NBC News said they do not doubt the reports.
"So many people died we began calling it 'ghost disease,'" Lee Jeong Hwa, a defector who escaped in 2010, 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 fled her country in 2013, she saw her neighbor give birth to a baby with grave 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." Rhee has been in contact with her family since she left North Korea four years ago, and she reports they are chronically ill with headaches and vomiting.
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