Study: North Koreaʼs underground nuclear tests contaminate groundwater — this threatens residents of four countries

Oleksiy Yarmolenko

Tens of thousands of people in North Korea, as well as residents of South Korea, Japan and China, could be exposed to radioactive substances that spread through groundwater. All because of underground nuclear tests conducted by North Korea.

Reuters writes about this with reference to the report of the human rights organization Transitional Justice Working Group.

From 2006 to 2017, North Korea secretly conducted six nuclear weapons tests at the Pungeri test site, according to the U.S. and South Korean governments. Therefore, radioactive substances could spread to eight cities and districts located near the landfill. More than a million people live in this area, and groundwater is used in everyday life, including for drinking.

South Korea, Japan and China may be at risk from the smuggling of agricultural and fishery products from the DPRK.

During the investigation, the organization worked with experts in the nuclear and medical fields, as well as using open source intelligence and publicly available government and UN reports.

"This report is important because it shows the threat of North Koreaʼs nuclear tests to the right to life and health not only of the North Korean people, but also of the people of South Korea and other neighboring countries," noted the head of the organization Hubert Younghwan Lee.

In 2015, South Koreaʼs Food Safety Agency detected levels of radioactive isotopes of cesium in imported mushrooms that were nine times the legal limit. It is noted that the mushrooms were sold as Chinese products, although they were actually from North Korea.

China and Japan have also stepped up radiation monitoring and expressed concern about potential exposure following North Koreaʼs nuclear tests.

  • In October 2022, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned of possible nuclear tests by North Korea. According to Rafael Grossi, such tests will demonstrate that the DPRKʼs nuclear program is advancing "at full speed."