Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

North Korea nuclear site collapse

Initially, a tunnel collapsed on 100 workers, and an additional 100 went in to rescue them, only to die themselves under the unstable mountain," Business Insider reports. (Photo: TV Asahi/Screengrab)

Fears of Radiation Leak Soar After North Korea Nuclear Site Collapse Kills 200

The disaster is believed to have resulted from Pyongyang's hydrogen bomb test, which sparked earthquakes and landslides

Jake Johnson

Experts are issuing urgent warnings of a possible radiation leak following the collapse of a tunnel at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site, an accident that reportedly killed at least 200 people.

"Should [the Punggye-ri site] sink, there is a possibility" that hazardous radioactive gas could be released into the atmosphere, warned South Korea weather agency chief Nam Jae-cheol during a parliamentary meeting on Monday, ahead of reports of the incident.

"With the test site compromised, hazardous radioactive material left over from the blast may seep out, which could possibly cause an international incident."
—Alex Lockie, Business Insider

The tunnel's collapse, first reported by the Japanese outlet TV Asahi on Tuesday, is presumed to have occurred as a result of the destabilization caused by Pyongyang's powerful hydrogen bomb test last month.

The Telegraph, citing South Korean news agency Yonhap, reported that the original incident took place on Oct. 10 though it remains unclear exactly when the secondary collapse may have occurred.

Business Insider's Alex Lockie reports that according to North Korean sources, the tunnel initially "collapsed on 100 workers, and an additional 100 went in to rescue them, only to die themselves under the unstable mountain."

Lockie continued:

The tunnels in and out of the test site had been damaged previously, and the workers may have been clearing or repairing the tunnels to resume nuclear testing. Additionally, with the test site compromised, hazardous radioactive material left over from the blast may seep out, which could possibly cause an international incident.

If the debris from the test reaches China, Beijing would see that as an attack on its country, Jenny Town, the assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute and a managing editor at 38 North, previously told Business Insider.

Reports of the deadly accident come on the heels of an analysis by the Washington Post suggesting that North Korea's nuclear tests may have become "so big that they have altered the geological structure of the land."

"Some analysts now see signs that Mount Mantap, the 7,200-foot-high peak under which North Korea detonates its nuclear bombs, is suffering from 'tired mountain syndrome,'" the Post noted. "The mountain visibly shifted during the last nuclear test, an enormous detonation that was recorded as a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in North Korea's northeast. Since then, the area, which is not known for natural seismic activity, has had three more quakes."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

EPA's Environmental Justice Office 'Won't Make Up for' Manchin Deal, Campaigner Says

"We've seen a lot of structural changes on environmental justice in the Biden, Obama and Clinton administrations, but we need to see the results," said Wes Gobar of the Movement for Black Lives.

Julia Conley ·


Historic Tropical Storm Fiona Sweeps Homes Into Ocean in Eastern Canada

"Climate change leads to warmer ocean water at higher latitudes," said one Canadian civil engineering professor. "A warmer future increases the probability that more intense storms will reach Canadian coasts."

Julia Conley ·


Federal Judge Allows 'Untenable' Plan to Send Juvenile Inmates to Angola Prison

"The move defies all common sense and best practices, and it will cause irrevocable damage to our youth and families," said one children's advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Catastrophic': Arizona Judge Allows 1864 Abortion Ban to Go Into Effect

"No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom," said one rights advocate.

Julia Conley ·


US Progressives Express Solidarity With Iranian Protesters After Death of Mahsa Amini

"The right to choose belongs to us all, from hijabs to reproductive care," said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Julia Conley ·

Common Dreams Logo