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North Korean Defectors Show Signs of Possible Radiation Exposure via The New York Times

SEOUL, South Korea — Four defectors from the area near North Korea’s nuclear testing site showed symptoms that could be attributed to radiation exposure, but scientists said they could not conclude that the health problems had been caused by a nuclear test, the South Korean government said on Wednesday.

The four arrived in South Korea from Kilju, a county in northeastern North Korea that includes Punggye-ri, where the North has conducted all six of its nuclear tests in tunnels dug deep beneath the mountains. South Korea began conducting medical exams of defectors from that region in October, a month after the North conducted its biggest test explosion yet.

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Such fears prompted the South Korean government to commission the exams of North Korean defectors from Kilju, to see if they showed signs of exposure.

Researchers said the results, released on Wednesday, could not produce any definitive findings because of a lack of data.

According to the study, there were 114 North Koreans from Kilju living in South Korea who have defected since the North’s first nuclear test in 2006.

However, all of them arrived in the South before the North’s most recent nuclear tests, including the September blast. This prevented researchers from studying the effects of the large nuclear test.

Moreover, only 30 defectors volunteered for the government-funded checkups, which were not mandatory.

In their report on Wednesday, the researchers said they could not find any statistically meaningful amount of radioactive substance inside the bodies of the 30 defectors they examined.

But researchers said they did find alterations in the chromosomes of four defectors. They said these could have been caused by exposure to radiation, though they also cautioned that such abnormalities could also have other causes, like heavy smoking. They said they did not have enough medical data from the defectors to produce any conclusive findings.

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