North Korea’s pursuit to successfully launch a long-range nuclear missile brings about a number of questions. Among the many curiosities, lies the question: how will 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 have 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 have 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 warn that another nuclear test under Mount Mantap could cause it to collapse and have 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, the former chairman of the China Nuclear Society and senior researcher on China’s nuclear weapons programme, told the South China Morning Post.
In addition to humans, radiation will 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 also point out that plants would get hit hard too, especially pine and spruce because they’re among the species that are the most sensitive to radiation.
“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.
Nuclear blasts also have the ability to take a large hit on Earth’s ozone layer, 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, the co-author of the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, told The Guardian.