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North Korea nuclear tests: How far would radiation travel if a leak occurs?

Recent earthquakes near North Korea’s nuclear test site have raised questions as to how far radioactive material would travel if an underground atomic explosion triggers a leak.

A magnitude 3.2 earthquake was detected near the test site on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) registered the quake at a magnitude 3.5.

The temblor originated in the northeastern part of the county near Kilju, where a large nuclear test occurred at the beginning of September and triggered a mountain collapse.

"The quake is small enough to suspect that it could have been caused by a tunnel collapse, and satellite data shows there have been many landslides in the area since the nuclear test,” Hong Tae-kyung, a professor at the department of Earth System Sciences at Yonsei University, told the AP.

AP N Korea Earthquake

People watch a TV news program reporting North Korea's earthquake, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. South Korea's weather agency said an earthquake was detected in North Korea on Saturday around where the country recently conducted a nuclear test, but it assessed the quake as natural. The signs read " The weather agency said a magnitude 3.0 earthquake was detected in North Korea." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

However, Korea’s Meteorological Administration believed the earthquake to be natural.

This string of earthquakes raises questions on how far the wind would carry dangerous radiation if a leak occurs.

Non-tropical systems would be the driving force for where radiation would travel. These systems generally travel in a west to east manner with some fluctuations to the north and south.

“As a weak front passes through North Korea early this week, winds around 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) will begin to pick up from the west to northwest at 20-30 mph,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert said.

“Anything that may have been pushed into the atmosphere will push towards northern Japan, north of Tokyo, into Hokkaido and extreme northern Honshu,” he added “The only major city this would affect is Sapporo, as this would be north of Sendai.”

Any radiation would likely stay fairly close to the ground for the first day or two following a possible leak, before gradually rising higher into the atmosphere.

Beyond the passage through Japan, any possible radiation could travel close to southeastern Russia, the Aleutian Islands or head into the North Pacific Ocean away from any land masses.

This general steering flow will likely persist through the week with slight day-to-day variation.

If a leak occurs, health hazards would not only be limited to those who are outside without the proper protection.

“The big concern is the underground water will be contaminated, polluting the plants and animals, and finally the people who consume animal meat will be seriously impacted,” Wei Shijie, a former worker on nuclear weapons in China, told The Telegraph.