During those years Kim Jong-il detonated two nuclear devices at the Punggye-ri test site, which sits within Ms Lee’s home county of Kilju.
“So many people died we began calling it ‘ghost disease',” she told NBC News. ”We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly. Now we know it was the radiation.”
However, speaking in South Korea, Ms Lee told the broadcaster she had undergone radiation tests that had come back negative.
And Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, a scientist at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in California, told NBC that radiation leaks would have been detected by sensors in the region.
The claims of defectors are notoriously difficult to verify due to the repressive nature of the North Korean regime – and the potential propaganda value of their life stories.
Earlier this month, defectors from Kilju made similar claims in interviews with South Korean media.
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