Will North Korea's Kim Jong Un Destroy the Environment With His Nuclear Bombs?

North Korea’s pursuit in successfully launching a long-range nuclear missile brings about a number of questions. Among them: How would the bombs affect the environment?

Although Kim Jong Un has yet to impact the United States’ physical environment, his nuclear tests have already caused extensive damage on his own soil. Testing at the country’s Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Facility has caused a majority of the trees—about 80 percent—in the area to die, according to defectors from the region. The defectors, who were interviewed by The Research Association of Vision of North Korea, also noted that the underground wells no longer had water, according to a report published in Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper.

Another notable concern is the bomb’s potential to contaminate the area with radioactive material. Although North Korean government radiation levels came back normal in September, there’s the still risk of future leaks, especially if more tests are conducted, Chinese scientists told the South China Morning Post.

The scientists warned that another nuclear test under Mount Mantap could cause it to collapse and suffer a radiation leak.

“We call it ‘taking the roof off’: If the mountain collapses and the hole is exposed, it will let out many bad things,” Wang Naiyan, former chairman of the China Nuclear Society and senior researcher on China’s nuclear weapons program, told the South China Morning Post.

12_2_Nuclear Protests Activists in Berlin march during a demonstration against nuclear weapons on November 18. Adam Berry/Getty Images

Radiation also would impact other forms of life.

“In areas where humans are killed or injured by radiation, the same lethality for animals would be expected. If large herds of farm animals were affected, poor sanitation could become a significant problem,” authors of the book Effects of Nuclear Earth-Penetrator and Other Weapons wrote.

The authors noted that plants would get hit hard too, especially pine and spruce, which are among the species that are the most sensitive to radiation.

12_2_Nuclear Nuclear symbols seen during a demonstration against nuclear weapons in Berlin on November 18. Adam Berry/Getty Images

“It is conceivable that forests could be killed, which in turn could result in forest fires. The demise of the pine forest near the Chernobyl plant was one notable example of this effect,” the authors, who are part of the National Academies of Sciences, wrote.

Earth’s ozone layer would also take a large hit from nuclear blasts, according to a 2006 study. Climate scientists who conducted the research found that the extent of damage capable of nuclear weapons could impact the Earth for decades.

"Nuclear weapons are the greatest environmental danger to the planet from humans—not global warming or ozone depletion," Alan Robock, a coauthor of the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, told The Guardian.

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